WASHINGTON -- He grabbed 30 percent of the Republican vote in Maryland and 36 percent of Georgia's ballot. So you'd think GOP candidate Pat Buchanan would get roughly one-third of the convention delegates, right?
Mr. Buchanan got zero delegates in Maryland and Georgia, thanks to winner-take-all party rules in those states and 14 others. To the victor, the spoils.
There are complex rules and thresholds that candidates have to reach to win delegates in other states, such as Michigan, where a candidate has to receive at least 33 percent of the vote in a congressional district to capture a delegate. Some states have separate elections for delegates, while still others award delegates based on a proportion of the vote received by the candidate.
So even though Mr. Buchanan has picked up about 32 percent of the primary vote so far -- compared with 65 percent for President Bush -- the delegate count is decidedly one-sided. Mr. Buchanan has 20 delegates compared with Mr. Bush's 148.
To win the Republican nomination in August, 1,105 delegates are needed.
At the rate they're going, Bush backers hope to reach that figure sometime between April 28 and May 5.
"There's something inherently unfair about a system like that," grumbled Seth Stein, Maryland state chairman for the Buchanan campaign. "I don't think it's an accurate reflection of the people's vote."
Brant Frost IV, Mr. Buchanan's southern director, seems unconcerned by the delegate selection process. "I don't have a problem with it," he said, noting that most elections are decided on a winner-take-all basis.
Republicans leave it up to the states to determine how delegates are selected, sort of in keeping with the GOP philosophy of limited central authority.
The Democrats, perhaps reflecting their own views, have requirements that flow from their Washington headquarters. Candidates must achieve at least 15 percent in a congressional district to capture a delegate. The party also strives to make sure the delegates are reflective of women and minorities in the population.
Since the Democrats have a more proportional delegate selection process than the GOP, the delegate totals for the Democratic candidates reflect their primary success.
Mr. Buchanan captured his delegates in New Hampshire and Colorado, which pass out delegates based on proportions of the vote.
But today, voters go to the polls in South Carolina, another winner-take-all state with 36 delegates.
Next week on delegate-rich Super Tuesday, five of the eight states have winner-take-all primaries: Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas. Collectively, that's 323 Republican delegates.
A GOP candidate must carry at least five states to have his name placed in nomination at the convention, according to party rules. The Buchanan brigade expects to reach at least that goal.
"We expect to win one [state] on Super Tuesday," said Mr. Frost, declining to say which one. "Once we win somewhere, we think the momentum will start to shift to our direction."