GOP, Dems Differ On Math In Iowa

This story was written by Kelsey Beltramea, The Daily Iowan
State Republican officials maintain that their math skills are just as adept as those of their Democratic counterparts. They just don't have to use them as much.

The two parties' distinctive caucus-tallying methods, in which the Democrats involve percentages and second chances, result in different strategies for presidential-nomination candidates.

Democratic candidates must draw at least 15 percent in a precinct for the votes to count. If a candidate's supporters fail to meet this viability threshold, they have the opportunity to realign and toss their votes to another contender, placing an importance on coming in second place.

The process of realignment for Democrats can result in great shift from the initial tally - a option Republican caucus attendees don't receive, state Republican spokeswoman Mary Tiffany said.

"Viability can amount to 10, 20, even 30 votes that get a second choice in each precinct," she said. "It's very different than how it can pan out with Republicans, who have one vote and that one vote is it."

The Republican method of polling, initiated in 1980, is akin to a straw vote with attendees displaying support by a show of hands or dividing themselves into groups for each candidate.

Steve Roberts, a Republican committeeman who was state chairman when the polling began, said Republicans did not even consider following the footsteps of the Democratics, who began using the viability option after national party rules changed after 1968.

"[Their method] just has never appealed to the Republican Party," he said. "There just hasn't been a human cry to change what we're doing."

Chris Allen, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party, agreed that the parties are happy with their individual methods.

"We've done it this way for a very long time, and it works well for each side," he said.

Pollsters, ever-curious about Iowa voters, even ask Democrats about their next-best choices.

A recent Washington Post poll found that if their candidates are not deemed viable, 34 percent of caucus-goers would make Illinois Sen. Barack Obama their second choice, 28 percent former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, and 15 percent Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

In 2004, Democratic-nomination candidate Edwards struck a deal with competitor Dennis Kucinch so that if one wasn't viable, his supporters would be encouraged to go to the other camp.

"Most didn't go Edwards, most went home," said David Redlawsk, a UI political-science associate professor and co-chairman of Johnson County for Edwards.

He speculated that candidates will again strike bargains but added that "it's important to recognize that candidates can make the agreement, but that won't guarantee that supporters will do it."

So will the Republicans ever add the math?

"I can't say that it hasn't passed through somebody's mind," Roberts said. "But there's never been a serious consideration."

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