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    Open versus Closed caucuses and primaries

    FAQ: Open vs. Closed primaries and caucuses

    Mitt Romney won the Nevada caucuses, but since it's a proportional caucus, the three other contenders -- Sen. Rick Santorum, Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Rep. Ron Paul -- also gained a few delegates each. The delegate score after the Nevada caucuses is:

    Mitt Romney127250 1081
    Newt Gingrich00230 427
    Rick Santorum13000 215
    Ron Paul0300 36
    Jon Huntsman0200 02

    Open versus Closed caucuses and primaries

    Nevada holds "closed caucuses", which means only voters who had previously registered as Republicans can vote. Closed caucuses have fewer participants than open caucuses, and caucuses have fewer participants than primaries. So a closed caucus is the smallest of all contests -- only 33,000 people voted in Nevada, compared to 250,000 in New Hampshire.

    We discussed last week why Ron Paul contested Nevada (and Maine and Colorado this week), because Rep. Paul could gain delegates in Nevada's proportional contest but not in Florida's winner-take-all contest. That explains why Rep. Paul has been campaigning heavily in the caucus states of Maine, Colorado and Nevada -- because he is likely to do better in the proportional caucuses in those states than in other contests.

    What about all the upcoming February primaries and Super Tuesday primaries? There's another factor to consider when strategizing about where to focus: is the contest "open" or "closed"? An "open primary" means Democrats and Independents can vote in the Republican primary; in a "closed primary" only registered Republicans can vote. Rep. Ron Paul, more than the other three remaining contenders, attracts Democrats and Independents (so did Gov. Jon Huntsman and Gov. Gary Johnson, but they withdrew!)

      States with an open Republican presidential primary
    • Alabama
    • Arizona (Semi-open)
    • Arkansas
    • Georgia
    • Hawaii
    • Illinois (Semi-open)
    • Indiana (Semi-open)
    • Massachusetts (Semi-open)
    • Michigan (Semi-open)
    • Minnesota
    • Mississippi
    • Missouri
    • Montana
    • New Hampshire (Semi-open)
    • North Carolina (Semi-open)
    • Rhode Island (Semi-open)
    • South Carolina
    • Tennessee
    • Texas
    • Vermont
    • Virginia
    • West Virginia
    • Wisconsin
    • (Source:

    A "semi-open" contest means Independents can vote in the Republican primary, but Democrats cannot (or some other variation). Moderate candidates do better in open contests because Independents prefer moderates.

    Sen. Santorum and Speaker Gingrich primarily attract hard-core conservatives who are likely to register as Republicans -- and hence they focus their campaign energy on closed contests where their supporters can dominate. For Rep. Paul, open contests are better. Hence Rep. Paul has two advantages to consider: the non-Republican vote in open contests, and his "fervency advantage" in caucuses compared to primaries.

    Super Tuesday determines the delegate lead

    Following are the upcoming contests through Super Tuesday, including whether they are open, closed, or semi-open.

    StateElection TypeDateDelegates
    NevadaClosed Proportional CaucusFeb. 428
    MaineClosed Proportional CaucusFeb. 424
    ColoradoClosed Proportional CaucusFeb. 736
    MinnesotaOpen Proportional CaucusFeb. 740
    ArizonaSemi-open Winner-take-all PrimaryFeb. 2829
    MichiganOpen Two-winners-take-all PrimaryFeb. 2830

    And one week later, on March 6 2012, comes "Super Tuesday": eleven contests in one day. Five proportional contests award 157 delegates, and partial winner-take-all contests award 209 delegates. By then, you'll know how to properly interpret everything!

    StateElection TypeTotal Delegates
    AlaskaClosed Proportional Caucus27
    GeorgiaOpen Two-winners-take-all Primary76
    IdahoOpen Proportional Caucus32
    MassachusettsSemi-open Proportional Primary41
    North DakotaOpen Proportional Caucus28
    OhioClosed District-winner-take-all Primary66
    OklahomaClosed District-winner-take-all Primary43
    TennesseeOpen District-winner-take-all Primary58
    VermontOpen District-winner-take-all Primary17
    VirginiaOpen District-winner-take-all Primary49
    WyomingClosed Proportional Caucus29

    Three of the upcoming contests have a "home state advantage" factor too. Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts and his father was governor of Michigan. Newt Gingrich was elected from Georgia; hence he gets the home-state advantage there. All of those factors contribut to why none of the four candidates will pull out before Super Tuesday!

    -- Summary by Jesse Gordon, editor-in-chief,, Feb. 6, 2012.

    Candidates' Issue Pages:
    Pres.Barack Obama
    V.P.Joe Biden
    GOP Candidates:
    Rep.Newt Gingrich(GA)
    Gov.Jon Huntsman(UT)
    Rep.Thaddeus McCotter(MI)
    Rep.Ron Paul(TX)
    Gov.Rick Perry(TX)
    Gov.Buddy Roemer(LA)
    Gov.Mitt Romney(MA)
    Sen.Rick Santorum(PA)

    Third Party Candidates:
    Gov.Gary Johnson(NM, Libertarian)
    Jill Stein(MA, Green)
    Mayor Johnson Anderson(UT, Justice Party)
    GOP Withdrawals:
    Rep.Michele Bachmann(MN)
    Herman Cain(GA)
    Gov.Haley Barbour(MS)
    Gov.Chris Cristie(NJ)
    Mayor Rudy Giuliani(NYC)
    Gov.Mike Huckabee(AR)
    Gov.Bobby Jindal(LA)
    Gov.Sarah Palin(AK)
    Gov.Tim Pawlenty(MN)
    Donald Trump(NY)