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Picking the Prez 

Most of the major contenders chasing the Republican nomination for president have made an effort to pick up delegates in Louisiana. John McCain (pictured here in New Hampshire) visited Baton Rouge in December to raise money and hustle delegates to the GOP

The deadline to run as a delegate to the Louisiana Republican Convention expired with little fanfare more than a week ago. Considering what's on the line " a party nomination, possibly keys to the White House " some voters expected more of an open bidding war for GOP delegates. Actually, there has been a bit of political warfare. It has just been below the radar, far from the eyes of the average voter. Most folks are more concerned about Louisiana's presidential primary on Feb. 9 than the delegate selection process, but that's a fool's choice. The party's nominee could be decided before Louisiana's primary because Super Tuesday elections will be held around the nation four days earlier, which, coincidentally, is Mardi Gras this year. The Bayou State will thus receive nothing more than a glance from the major players as the primary election nears, especially in comparison to all the political fuss over Iowa and New Hampshire.

The real horse-trading is happening now, leading up to Louisiana's Jan. 22 Republican caucuses, which will elect delegates and alternate delegates to the Louisiana Republican Convention on Feb. 16. At the state convention, Louisiana Republicans will ultimately pick their 47 delegates to the national convention, which in turn will select the party's presidential nominee.

To make things even more obtuse, all of Louisiana's national convention delegates will be 'uncommitted" unless one of the GOP candidates receives 50 percent of the vote or more in Louisiana's presidential primary on Feb. 9. And even if that happens, which is not expected, only 20 of Louisiana's 47 delegates will be assigned to that candidate " for the first round of balloting at the national convention. Jason Dore, a spokesperson for the Louisiana Republican Party, admitted that the 'convoluted" process may have discouraged candidates, but there have still been some interesting plays.

While official numbers are not yet available (delegates still have to clear the caucus process), a small slate did come together at the last minute for former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, the well-known actor who seemed to have more momentum when he was staying out of the race last year. To be certain, it's a tough time right now to be a Thompson delegate wannabe. To date, Thompson has finished third in Iowa, sixth in New Hampshire and fifth in Michigan. That means the next primary is do-or-die. In fact, many pundits are expecting Thompson to drop out soon if he doesn't win something " anything.

So how does that impact the Louisiana delegates pushing for the television star? In the end, they could be a wild card. 'I think a lot of those people are still waiting to see what happens in South Carolina, and they could end up being a pro-life conservative slate if things don't work out for the Thompson campaign," Dore says.

The biggest surprise to come out of Louisiana's GOP delegate process thus far involves Ron Paul, the Texas congressman mounting a quasi-libertarian campaign that has been defined by its grassroots organization. Dore says the Paul campaign dropped off a 'whole slate" of delegates about two weeks ago " a surprise showing that wasn't expected. If any controversy arises from the delegate process, it will be from Paul's camp. 'We're being watchful, though, because we want to make sure all of the delegates were registered Republicans before the Nov. 30 deadline," Dore says, adding there was a great deal of interest expressed by nonparty voters about switching to the GOP in support of Paul. 'We started contacting registrars of voters in 17 parishes yesterday about roughly 90 people, the vast majority of which were signed up for Ron Paul."

By most indications, the most organized pushes for delegates came from U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

For his part, McCain held a meet-and-greet function at the Camelot Club in Baton Rouge in late December, where handlers were able to get a bit of in-person delegate work done. With members of the national press hunkered down in a waiting area, McCain met privately for a brief period with several donors and members of the transition team of Gov. Bobby Jindal, a fellow Republican.

Romney has taken a more modern approach to herding delegates. His campaign oversaw a mass e-mail drive earlier this month that reached out to conservative voters and asked them to run as delegates for the Louisiana Republican Convention. In a response sent from the originating e-mail address, Alan Philip, Romney's regional political director, wrote that the names targeted for the drive were gleaned from lists compiled by old GOP campaigns in Louisiana. In particular, he cited the recent and failed attempt by term-limited state Sen. Craig Romero, R-New Iberia, to capture the 3rd Congressional District.

If the delegate selection process in Louisiana seems unwieldy, that's because it is. The same scenario has been playing out all over the country, with McCain, Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee slugging it out for dominance. If the trend toward mixed results in each state continues, Republicans could head into this summer's national convention with an unprecedented question mark hanging over the proceedings. For the first time in memory, there's no telling who will rise up to take the GOP crown, and Louisiana's delegates could very well play an important role. Jeremy Alford can be reached at jeremy@jeremyalford.com.

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