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Reality Check: Rules Dictate How Candidates Win Delegates

Published On: Feb 13 2008 09:59:29 AM CST   Updated On: Feb 14 2008 08:02:41 AM CST

In the lead-up to Tuesday's presidential primary, voters are trying to figure out how their decision translates to delegates. The details can be confusing, but they will likely decide the nominees.

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As the primary quickly approaches, there is a battle waging not only for votes but also delegates to the national conventions. The process isn't as simple as who wins a state's primary or caucus.

Republicans award delegates in three ways. Some states are winner-take-all, meaning in those states like Florida, the winner takes all the delegates. Other states award delegates by congressional district. If a candidate wins the district, that candidate gets the delegates. Still, others award delegates based on the vote percentages each candidate gets.

For example, in Iowa, Mike Huckabee won 17 delegates with 34 percent of the vote; Mitt Romney won 12 delegates with 25 percent of the vote; John McCain won three delegates with 13 percent of the vote; and Ron Paul won two delegates with 10 percent of the vote.

For the Democrats, it's different. There are no winner-take-all states, and delegates are all awarded proportionally, based on percentages won in congressional districts. Candidates must get at least 15 percent of the vote to get at least one delegate.

Then there's another category for the Democrats -- the superdelegate. In Wisconsin, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle is a superdelegate, which is a high-ranking member of a party within a state.

Wisconsin has 18 total superdelegates, and their vote is unpledged, meaning it's not dictated by voters. Some political experts believe that in the tight Democratic race, it might come down to their decisions, not the voters'.

Some candidates who were awarded delegates eventually drop out of the race, like John Edwards, who had 26 delegates, or Mitt Romney, who had almost 300. For Republicans, since Romney suspended his campaign, his delegates will vote for him until or unless he releases them. For Democrat Edwards, his delegates can stay with him or move to another candidate -- usually one he would endorse.

Republican-pledged delegates are bound to their candidate; Democratic-pledged delegates usually stick with theirs, but could switch at the convention.

Wisconsin delegates are doled out differently between the parties as well.

Democrats award 74 delegates by the proportion of the vote each candidate gets.

Republicans have a total of 40 delegates, with 24 of those awarded by who wins the congressional district. That means if a candidate wins a district, that candidate would get three delegates. Whoever wins the state gets 13 bonus delegates, and the last three are "unpledged," which is similar to the Democratic superdelegate.

Republicans use unpledged delegates but the amounts and rules vary from state to state.

  • PHOTOS: Madison store helps collect hundreds of Teddy bears for police

    MADISON, Wis.--A west Madison store is part of an effort to collect hundreds of stuffed animals to donate to six police departments in Southern Wisconsin.

    Todd Merryfield, owner of The Learning Shop at 714 S. Gammon Road, said the store is collecting the bears for officers who use them to help comfort children with whom police come in contact.

    "This is a great way to support what (police) do," Merryfield said. "Those are the kids that need something like this to reassure them, calm them down, and let them know that things are all right."

    Nearly 500 plush animals were donated Tuesday, a Learning Shop spokeswoman said. The Madison store's effort is part of a larger initiative through the Bears for Humanity organization. 

    Photos by Doug Wahl

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