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GOP rules raise delegate oddities

WASHINGTON -- Watch for some wacky results in the race for delegates in the Republican presidential primaries and caucuses. There might even be a state or two where the second-place candidate gets the most delegates, starting with Tuesday's caucuses in Iowa.

New GOP rules require states that hold nominating contests before April to award delegates proportionally. That usually means a candidate who gets 40 percent of the vote gets 40 percent of the delegates. But not always.

The rules give states a lot of leeway to define proportional and some states have gotten creative, making it possible for a candidate in a close race to narrowly win the most congressional districts -- and the most delegates -- but come in second in the overall statewide vote, said Bob Bennett, a member of the Republican National Committee from Ohio.

Early on, battles over small numbers of delegates won't get much attention because candidates are more concerned about winning contests and building momentum.

But if the race continues into late spring, like the 2008 battle between Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, delegate totals become much more important.

"All these rules are important in close races," Bennett said. "If you have a blowout, a sure winner, they don't matter as much."

In most national polls, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are the front-runners for the GOP nomination.

In Iowa, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas also is polling well, raising the possibility of a split vote.

In a tight, three-way race, it is possible for a candidate to narrowly win two of the four congressional districts -- putting him or her in position to win the most delegates -- but come in second in overall votes statewide.

A total of 2,286 delegates are slated to attend the Republican National Convention in August, and 1,144 will be needed to claim the nomination, according to the Republican National Committee.

No candidate can reach that total before April, though a dominant front-runner could build a commanding lead by then.

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