Last Delegate Standing

With such a close race, every single delegate could matter in this year's presidential contest.


Republican candidates need 1,191 delegates to win their party's nomination, but their strategies to seek delegates differ from the Democratic candidates because they have winner-take-all states. On Super Tuesday several states for the Republicans are winner-take-all, including New York, New Jersey, and Arizona. Also the states that voted red in 2004 get bonus GOP delegates for good behavior.

To make things even more complicated, the Democrats have "super delegates," which are members of the Democratic National Committee, Democratic members of Congress, Democratic Governors, Democratic former presidents, and more. When Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell placed his support behind Clinton—who is leading in super-delegates thus far—he also in essence pledged to give her his super-delegate vote. The same goes for Sen. Ted Kennedy when he decided to support Obama. However, either politician could change whom they vote for before or even at the convention, making super-delegate support incredibly difficult to track. The more than 800 super-delegate votes could account for about 40 percent of the delegates needed to clinch the Democratic nomination. The tighter the race, the more important super-delegates become.

For the Republicans there aren't any "super delegates" per se, but there are automatic delegates. Each state's party chairman, national committeeman, and national committeewoman get to cast a vote for their party's nominee at the convention. When the GOP stripped Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Wyoming of half their delegates for jumping ahead of the line, the first ones they gobbled up were the automatic delegates.

Because different GOP candidates keep winning different states and the two Democratic front-runners continue to win similar numbers of delegates, this presidential election could go down as one of the closest races in history. At this point, it's mathematically impossible for any candidate to win the nomination on Super Tuesday, because they simply couldn't earn enough. Every last delegate, super-delegate, and automatic delegate could be up for grabs. "I think there's a real possibility that the Republicans will not produce a nominee, because you've got four or five candidates who could keep getting delegates," says Lichtman. The Democrats, he says, could be in the same boat. However, if the Sunshine State's primary has the impact that Florida's Democrats and Republicans hope it does and produces a front-runner, this race could quickly become a whole lot more typical.