NASHVILLE - There are nine Republican presidential candidates on Tennessee's primary ballot, but four of them have no committed delegates to the party's nominating convention.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads in delegates while one-time House Speaker Newt Gingrich, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have substantial numbers committed to their campaigns, according to The Knoxville News Sentinel. Ex-Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has three delegates.
GOP candidates with no delegates committed to them include U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, one-time Louisiana Gov. Charles "Buddy" Roemer and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum.
Party rules allow delegates to be appointed after the March 6 election by the Republican executive committee, but officials say having committed delegates is an early sign of political organizing.
"I do think it shows a certain amount of organization on the part of the candidates who have gotten a good number of delegate candidates to run," said Chris Devany, chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, who stressed his neutrality in the primary race. "That certainly shows there's a level of organization and that they're thinking beyond the early primaries."
Tennessee will have 58 delegates to the Republican National Convention in August at Tampa, Fla. There will be three from each of the state's nine congressional districts and 14 at-large delegates elected on the basis of the statewide party primary vote. That makes a total of 41 candidate delegates. The rest are automatic party seats at the convention or are selected by the Executive Committee.
A candidate would have to win 66 percent of the vote in a given district to claim all three of that district's delegates. Likewise, the candidate would have to achieve a 66 percent statewide plurality to claim all at-large delegates.
Failing that, there is a complicated system for allocating delegates based on what percentage of the vote the candidates received.
Asked for comment on the delegate selection process, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett replied by email, saying, "We believe that the Tennessee system puts the choice of presidential nominees where it belongs - in the hands of voters."
"Our system gives each nationally recognized candidate a chance to prove they should be the front runner in the end," Hargett replied.