Feb. 5: The DMA Primary

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Although a majority of American voters will get the chance to participate in the Feb. 5 Super Tsunami Mastadoon (or whatever) primary this year, don't assume that all their potential votes will count equally.

There is no obvious strategy.

Consider: 173 delegates are up for grabs in California. Each Congressional district sends three delegates to the convention; the other 14 are are at-large or bonus. That's a relatively recent rules change. It was designed to even the influence of Republicans in, say, the Central Valley, with Republicans in Los Angeles and force candidates to campaign everywhere.

In theory, that's what it will do. If Rudy Giuliani recieves a plurality of the vote in the 1st congressional district, he receives all the delegates awarded by that district. If he recieves a majority of the vote statewide, he'll get another 10 delegates.

What to do? A campaign can try to target Republican voters in all 53 counties at once. But that's impractical and extremely expensive. Here's another strategy:

(a) locate those congressional districts clumped together in television markets and saturate them with television advertisements

(b) use voter modeling and microtargeting to locate Republican neighborhoods in more rural districts and target those households with personal telephone calls and even in-person contacts.

But more (a) than (b), because if a campaign manages to turn out a plurality of voters, they they've "won" the state, receiving additional delegates and the "winner" designation by the political press corps, who will be itching to detect currents towards one candidate or another on Feb. 5.

Except if, say, Fred Thompson wins more delegates from winning in more conservative congressional districts.... but loses the statewide vote because Rudy Giuliani, who spent nearly all of his money in the three biggest media markets, managed to turn out unprecedented numbers of primary voters in a few congressional districts.

That's not likely to happen: At least 40 of California's 53 congressional districts are served by one of three designated market areas: the Yuma El Centro DMA, which includes San Diego, San Bernadino and Riverside. The Los Angeles DMA. And the San Francisco DMA.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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