boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe

State Republican Committee dumps winner-take-all policy

Mitt Romney, addressing supporters in West Palm Beach, Fla., had hoped the Massachusetts GOP would retain the policy. Mitt Romney, addressing supporters in West Palm Beach, Fla., had hoped the Massachusetts GOP would retain the policy. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Rebuffing efforts by Mitt Romney loyalists, the Republican State Committee this week changed its policy of committing all the state's delegates to the winner of the presidential primary.

The winner-take-all policy had been championed by Romney backers -- including national committeeman Ron Kaufman -- when it came before a committee established to determine convention rules, according to other committee members. The rules committee approved the policy, 9 to 3.

But the broader state committee -- some of whose members are supporting Senator John McCain and Rudy Giuliani in the presidential primary -- rejected it, 31 to 17, this week, saying it was unfair and that delegates should be apportioned based on the share of the vote each candidate wins. And the committeeman who led the revolt said it could spare the former governor embarrassment if he fails to win his home state.

"If Mitt Romney loses the primary next March in Massachusetts -- which could happen -- under the system that his supporters wanted, he would walk away with nothing," said Stephen Zykofsky of Lynn. "At least with the system that I've proposed, he would salvage some delegates."

While several Romney supporters on the committee pushed for the winner-take-all policy, party chairman Peter Torkildsen said that the Romney campaign was not directing them, and that at least two members backing Romney voted against it. Torkildsen, who was viewed by some party insiders to be a Romney ally when he was elected chairman this year, voted for the rule at the committee meeting. However, he said that as party chairman, he was neutral on the vote this week and will remain neutral in the presidential race.

Kaufman could not immediately be reached for comment.

The vote on convention delegate rules was no small matter for the state GOP because it determined how many of the state's 43 delegates will be committed to each presidential candidate. With a thick field of 11 contenders, candidates could split votes narrowly, Zykofsky argued, and should not be able to reap the entire crop of delegates.

"I believe strongly we have to use proportional representation," said Zykofsky, who favors Giuliani. "We'll have more competition, presidential candidates coming to Massachusetts to campaign. If they think it's hopeless for them to win the whole prize, they won't come here and we'll end up a political backwater."

Instead, Massachusetts Republicans will sprinkle delegates to candidates who win at least 15 percent of the primary vote, based on their proportionate share. The party used the same method for many years, beginning in the 1970s.

That tradition changed in 1995, when then-governor William Weld persuaded the state committee to adopt a winner-take-all policy in the hopes of boosting the candidacy of former California governor Pete Wilson. As it turned out, Wilson dropped out of the race well before the primary.

The party stuck with the winner-take-all approach in the following election, but found itself embarrassed then, as well. Massachusetts voted for John McCain, rendering delegates irrelevant as George W. Bush marched to the convention nomination. McCain's campaign ultimately agreed to release some delegates to vote for Bush.

Still, the policy prevailed again in 2004.

Each state party must approve its convention rules every four years -- about a year before the national convention.

New Jersey's Republican party recently switched to a winner-take-all arrangement, which is expected to greatly benefit Giuliani, who governed neighboring New York City and enjoys broad support there.

The Massachusetts vote pointed out the difficulty Romney has had on his own turf. Romney was never chummy with members of the state committee and the state Republican party shrank under his leadership. Some party leaders believe his increasingly conservative positions as he approached a presidential campaign turned off Massachusetts' more-moderate brand of Republicans.

Yesterday, the state Democratic Party attacked Romney for statements he made in years past, in which he seemed to distance himself from the GOP as he campaigned in moderate Massachusetts. He made the comments after leading the Salt Lake Winter Olympics in Utah, GOP territory.

"I'm not convinced that the state would be better off with all Republicans. As a matter of fact, I've been in a state like that for the last three years. It's not a good thing," Romney said in 2002, according to the party's montage of clips.

Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said the attack showed Romney's viability. "The Democratic Party brass target Mitt Romney because they see him as the greatest threat to them in 2008," Madden said. "They direct a lot of anger towards Governor Romney because he has the most impressive record of any Republican and he has the best resume of bringing conservative change to Washington, and it's in their interest to protect the status quo there."

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES