Yesterday afternoon, in a hotel conference room just off exit nine on the New Jersey Turnpike, the state Republican Party did presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani a huge favor: they agreed to consider an unprecedented rule revision that could, in effect, rig the New Jersey Republican primary, award Rudy Giuliani 52 delegates, save his campaign millions of dollars, and establish the state’s most conservative county chairman as an ingenious powerbroker.
Historically, New Jersey's Republican primary has allotted delegates proportionally, based on performance in the state's congressional districts. Since 1968, the primary has been held late in the cycle and has therefore ratified the choices of Republicans in early-voting caucuses and primaries.
Last year, bowing to pressure, New Jersey decided to move its 2008 primary to February 5 in order to give its citizens more of a role. That was before most Republicans really believed that Giuliani would run.
Now, of course, Giuliani is a pseudo-favorite son, and in any scenario, he would receive a majority of convention delegates. But if New Jersey decides to keep its old rules, other candidates—John McCain, Ron Paul—could focus on specific Congressional districts and win their share of support.
David Von Savage, the chairman of the Cape May County Republican Party, wants to change the rules. His domain includes about 100,000 residents—mostly Republicans—who call a thumb-shaped peninsula on the state’s southeastern edge their home. Von Savage is decidedly to the right of most Republicans in the state. He never got along with the state’s pro-choice Republican governor, Christie Todd Whitman, precisely because she held liberal views on cultural issues. Nonetheless, in February, despite the fact that, as he told reporters at the time, Giuliani’s social positions were “not an easy fit for me to reconcile,” he became the first New Jersey county chairman to back Giuliani.
Why did Von Savage do this? Back to yesterday. During the state GOP meeting, an ad hoc adviser committee appointed by the state chairman voted 10 to 3 to send to the state committee a recommendation that the rules be changed to award all delegates to one winner. Ocean County GOP chairman George Gilmore, the chairman of the committee of county chairman—which is to say, a powerful guy—introduced the rules-change resolution. Mr. Von Savage seconded it. Now, two thirds of the several dozen members on the state committee must ratify it. One connected Republican said he would be “shocked” if the state committee “doesn’t accept this recommendation from the most powerful of the GOP powerbrokers.”
Here is what Gilmore and Von Savage want to accomplish: the moment New Jersey Republicans announce that they’re awarding all their delegates to the winner—whoever he may be—the race freezes. Giuliani, who has locked up more than half of the county chairs and virtually every major Republican endorsement the state has to offer, becomes the winner. Immediately.