By Lawrence Messina
CHARLESTON — With the number growing daily, at least 80 West Virginia Republicans have filed to become delegates to the Feb. 5 convention that aims to capitalize on “Tsunami Tuesday.”
The total includes 23 selected by county party committees and 47 who signed up to run for at-large seats. Republican legislators, statewide executive branch officeholders and state executive committee members also get automatic berths. Ten of them had registered so far.
The state GOP’s goal is to have as many as 1,446 delegates throng the Charleston Civic Center, where they will vote to pledge a majority of their national convention delegates to a single White House hopeful.
“We’re probably getting 10 to 15 a day,” said Bob Fish, chairman of the state GOP Presidential Convention Inc.
At least 20 other states plan to hold primaries or caucuses Feb. 5. But organizers expect West Virginia’s convention to post the first results by several hours, potentially giving the party a prominent role in national press coverage.
Nine presidential candidates paid the $5,000 fee to take part. Thirty-four of the 80 delegates who have filed so far have committed to seven of these GOP contenders. Fred Thompson leads the pack with a dozen delegates, while Mitt Romney has 10.
But the remaining delegates, 57 percent, are uncommitted. If the trend holds, it could encourage the candidates to attend the convention personally. The convention schedule includes two hours for speeches.
“It could be that we’re seeing people who are planning to make up their mind at the convention,” Fish said. “If one candidate comes in and really presents himself well, that could be the determining factor.”
Fish expects the delegate roster to swell considerably within the next week or so, as the 55 county party committees each select 12 delegates for the convention.
The committees will supply 660 of the convention delegates. The rest, 610 delegates, will be selected by rank-and-file GOP voters in January. Each county’s allotment of these at-large slots is based on the size of the party there and whether it went for President Bush in 2004.
Nov. 30 is the deadline to register for the at-large seats. West Virginia’s 346,776 registered Republicans also have until Nov. 30 to sign up for the January online voting for these at-large spots.
At least 600 party members have registered to vote so far. Fish expects that several counties will select their delegates at local conventions, instead of voting online.
Though the Feb. 5 convention has an advertising budget, Fish said his team has focused on reaching party members through its Web site and by e-mail. Convention officials are also relying on the county committees to spread the word.
Fish envisions a scene where each county’s delegation will have its own spot and banner on the convention floor. Each county will be asked, in alphabetical order, to announce its vote. Several rounds of voting, with break periods for horse-trading in between, are possible, Fish said.
“We’re really staking the measure of success on the level of representation we see at the convention,” he said. “That means having as close to 1,446 delegates as possible. That will be the real telling point.”
On the Net: W.Va. Republican Party Convention: http://www.wvgopconvention.com.