I didn’t talk about this last week, and it’s no longer particularly relevant to 2012 (what with Mitt Romney having nailed down the nomination and all) but for those of us interested in understanding the GOP presidential nomination process, the news out of North Dakota was actually quite important.

As Josh Putnam explains, the initial caucus-day straw poll projected to 11 Rick Santorum delegates, 8 for Ron Paul, 7 for Romney, and 2 for Newt. Those projections were included in the AP delegate counts. But the actual delegates were chosen at the North Dakota GOP state convention, and when those delegates were asked it turned out they broke 12 for Romney, 8 for Santorum, 2 for Paul, 1 for Newt, and 2 undecided (why three more in the AP projected numbers? They mistakenly included the three NoDak Supers).

So. First, that’s a pretty good sized swing; a net seven swing between the two leading candidates. Perhaps more importantly, it turns North Dakota from a state where Romney was losing ground to 50% of the delegates to one where he’s treading water.

Third, while it was expected that Romney might exceed his caucus day straw poll numbers thanks to organization and presumed party actor support, it’s unknown what Ron Paul’s delegate strategy would yield. At least in this case, the answer is: bupkis.

Caution: we have no idea how this will play out in the other states, and it might not be similar to North Dakota. Part of the idea here is that these are state party processes, and they vary by state. So we just don’t know until it all plays out. And if Santorum does drop out soon, then we’ll never know, since presumably Romney will soak up all the non-Paul delegates in the caucus states.

Anyway, as I said, none of this is going to matter very much this time around. But if the process doesn’t change, it’s worth keeping all of this in mind for the next time that Republicans have a competitive nomination cycle.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.