Until Rick Santorum’s surprising win in Iowa, the first in the nation caucus, Romney was already expected to be the nominee. Even though Romney still has a commanding lead in the delegate count, he is still far short of the 1,144 needed to secure the Republican nomination. It is mathematically impossible for anybody to secure the nomination before Pennsylvania’s primary on April 24, so Santorum’s home state is likely to play a major role in the Republican presidential race.
So how exactly does Pennsylvania’s primary work? Each state has its own set of rules, from open to closed primary, and different rules about if the delegates are bound to vote for the candidate who wins in their state. Here’s how Pennsylvania’s presidential primary works:
First off, Pennsylvania has a closed primary. This means that you can only vote in the Republican presidential primary if you are registered to vote as a Republican.
Pennsylvania has 72 delegates to be awarded at the Republican National Convention. Fifty-four of these delegates are elected by the voters- three from each of Pennsylvania’s eighteen Congressional districts. In addition, there are three delegates who are members of the RNC (the Chairman, National Committeewoman, and National Committeeman) and ten “at-large” delegates who are appointed by the PA GOP Chairman. Pennsylvania also has five “bonus” delegates following the 2010 elections: one for having a Republican governor, one for having a majority of the Congressional districts represented by Republicans, one each for having a majority in the State House and State Senate, plus one for having a Republican U.S. Senator. Sixty-nine alternate delegates are also elected using the same formula (except for the three RNC members).
These delegates are all unbound; meaning, they can vote from whichever candidate they want at the National Convention in Florida this summer. Voters will still select a presidential candidate when they cast their ballots, but it is more like what some people call a “beauty contest” election- the results will be representative of the preferences of Pennsylvania voters, but they carry no real meaning for nominating a presidential nominee. This doesn’t mean that the outcome will be unimportant, however, because Pennsylvania is going to be a battleground state in the general election.