Politics & Government

Texas GOP wants bigger role in 2016 primaries

By Anna M. Tinsley - atinsley@star-telegram.com

June 06, 2014 08:56 PM

Texas Republicans want to make a difference in the 2016 presidential race.

So they changed their party rules Friday to create a process similar to what Texas Democrats have used. It’s known as the “Texas Two-Step,” a two-tiered system that awards delegates through both a popular vote on election night and also through post-election caucuses.

Texas Republicans gave the OK to a new rule that calls for 38 of their delegates to the next national convention to be awarded to a presidential candidate — no matter which candidate wins the popular vote — based on a vote taken during the next state convention.

“They will campaign here before the primary,” said Bill Crocker, Texas’ Republican National Committeeman. “They will come back and campaign before the convention.

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“This is a very healthy thing.”

This comes after years of frustration by Texans who say the state traditionally has had little voice in the presidential primaries because, most times, the nominees for both parties are all but set by the time residents here head to the polls.

Texas Republicans could gain double the influence in 2016, first by being the first large state to head to the polls on March 1.

And second, by pinning some of the delegates on a convention vote, they could draw presidential candidates back to Texas for a second time.

“The candidates will be fighting to get that block of delegates,” said Steve Hollern, a former Tarrant County Republican Party chairman and delegate to this year’s convention. “The candidates will pay more attention to the convention — and to Texas.”

Objections were raised about changing the delegate rules.

“We are the party of the people,” said Zan Prince, a Weatherford delegate, whose opposition to the change was shot down. “This takes the power of the people out of that” process.

This decision comes one day before the convention, intended to build party unity, wraps up at the Fort Worth Convention Center.

Past rule changes

Nominating rules were a big issue in 2012 at the GOP national convention, where some delegates had hoped to support the candidate of their choice rather than being bound by the choice that voters made in the primary — a move that could have helped Ron Paul.

A compromise was reached on allocation, as well as a push by establishment Republicans to let presidential nominees choose the delegates who would represent them at national conventions.

Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri was among those who went to work after that to help craft a set of new rules to give Texas, along with other states, the right to determine how delegates are awarded.

Delegates this convention had several choices.

They could have chosen a winner-take-all approach, giving all the state’s delegates to a candidate who wins at least 51 percent of the vote, or chosen to allocate votes proportionally.

Or they could have continued as they have, with a hybrid approach — allocating three delegates from each of the state’s three dozen congressional districts to the candidate with the most votes in each respective district and divvying up the rest statewide based on the votes cast.

New system

Delegates approved a complex system to divvy up their 155 delegates.

Three of those delegate positions would be filled by the national committee man, national committee woman and the state chair. Those representatives would essentially serve as super delegates.

Three-fourths of the remaining 152 delegates, or 114, will be allocated based on the state primary results.

The remaining 38 delegates will be up for grabs to the presidential candidate most preferred by state convention delegates. Those attending the 2016 state convention will take a vote on which candidate should receive those additional delegates.

“This will create a very interesting situation in 2016,” said Bill Eastland, a delegate and member of the State Republican Executive Committee.

Two-step in Texas

In 2008, former first lady Hillary Clinton fought hard for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, battling with Barack Obama in state after state. For a time, the primary was so close that many thought it could come down to the party’s superdelegates.

Texas will long be remembered for giving Clinton the popular vote in the 2008 Democratic primary but awarding Obama more delegates in the caucus process, through an unusual way of choosing presidential delegates.

After the polls closed, delegates statewide showed up in such massive numbers that they essentially overwhelmed precinct conventions as well as later senatorial conventions and the state convention as well.

The system dubbed the “Texas Two-Step” drew national scrutiny in the wake of that election.

Republicans say they hope adopting a similar system will boost turnout for their party as well.

“We will experience that same thing in 2016, especially if you get four or five viable candidates,” Eastland said. “This is a party opportunity. We will have gobs of new people participating.”