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Opinion: Get Ready for a Bloody GOP Delegate Battle

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Republican presidential candidates at Fox News debate in Sioux City, Iowa.

So you think the Iowa's first in the nation presidential caucuses are the cats meow? Think again. Thanks to federalism, every single state can decide when to hold their primary event, meaning that the fierce battle for delegates could take place over months, not weeks. As the Huffington Post puts it: 

Through January and February, according to the website, only 334 delegates will be awarded. Super Tuesday will add only 599 more - a total of just 41 percent of all delegates. RNC rule changes this year, encouraged states to delay their primaries until later in the year. Some of the states with the most delegates won't vote until late spring or even as late as the summer. New York and Pennsylvania will award their 95 and 72 delegates, respectively, on April 24. California's mother lode of 172 delegates won't be up for grabs until June 5.

A GOP candidate will have to win roughly 1,143 delegates in 2012 to clinch the nomination. The new RNC rules have also allowed states to allocate primary and caucus delegates proportionately rather than winner-take-all. That's more like the model the Democrats have used, which led to the protracted Obama/Clinton campaign for delegates in 2008.

Super Tuesday is on March 6 in 2012. But it’s less "super" than previously because it only has 11 states holding contests instead of the 21 in 2008. The largest state to vote on Super Tuesday is Texas. The 155 Texas delegates will be awarded proportionately so several contenders will be able to harvest these delegates.

These rule changes make 2012 " ... the least front-loaded primary calendar in decades, featuring the longest-ever gap between Iowa and Super Tuesday," according to Huffpost Pollster.

Its very likely that the candidates with the most money and best organization will slog it out from Iowa to New Hampshire and then south, picking up delegates in every proportionally allocated state. Candidates like Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have the money and they can stay alive without winning a single state. All they have to do is accumulate 1,143 delegates at the end of the process, possibly June of 2012, to clinch the nomination.

It's even possible that if, say three or four contenders can stay in the game, NO ONE will accumulate that magic number. Then we go to the most exciting of all presidential nominations - a deadlocked national convention decided by a brutal "trading of delegates" process.

Psychologically it would be difficult to imagine many candidates getting financial support from donors unless they win some primaries and caucuses. But this is the year of "Super PAC's" and of secret money that can be channeled to advertising on issues that help candidates. Theoretically we could see Perry, Paul, Romney, and Gingrich in a "ropeadope" slugging it out as they drag from one primary to the next all across this great country.

Would that hurt the GOP in its effort to defeat Obama in November? Not at all!

I think it would have the same effect as the 2008 Obama/Clinton slugfest and keep politics alive for a longer period and involve people in parts of the country who are normally left out because the nomination has been clinched early on. That’s good to get the base excited. For those of us who enjoy sorry, LOVE politics and find the democratic way candidates are selected in the US interesting nothing could be more wonderful that a lengthy brutal crawl to the finish line.

Steffen Schmidt is professor of political science at Iowa State University, blogs for the Des Moines Register and is chief political correspondent for