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Beth Peterson

As Rick Santorum suspended his campaign Tuesday, a discussion of delegates and “superdelegates” began in the media. Santorum, who ABC News reports to have 285 delegates, the Washington Post claims he has 281, now has a few options. And so do his delegates.

While most media outlets and political figures have taken the suspension as the end of Santorum’s bid for the republican nomination, the former senator did not officially end his campaign. If he had, Santorum’s delegates would no longer be bound to him. However, this is not the course he chose to take.

Even after the suspension decision has been made, there are still political intricacies that make further research necessary to realize the number of delegates that continue to be bound to Santorum leading up to the convention. Superdelegates, nonbinding contests and differing delegate counts in states such as Alabama and Illinois make the picture unclear. Accounting for all factors, Santorum will have 188 to 197 delegates, depending on the source of the figures, going into the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Yet, after all of this discussion, research and number crunching, there is still the possibility Santorum could endorse Romney, releasing his delegates to become free agents.

When it’s all said and done, this media analysis and discussion brings up a broader question about party conventions and election processes. If the Washington PostABC News, and the Republican National Committee can’t agree upon Santorum’s delegate count, is this process far too complicated? How can the average citizen understand the political circumstances leading up to the convention, when major media outlets and the organization sponsoring the event can’t come to the same conclusions?

And even more importantly, is all of this complication and required analysis even worth it when conventions have become more of a media spectacle than a decision-making apparatus in the past few decades?

Yes and no.

In some ways, party “conventions have become tightly scripted made-for-TV spectacles,” suggesting they are less necessary to the political process and have become “little more than four-day advertisements for the political parties,” according to the State Department resource “Democracy in Action.” 

But at the same time, “some scholars have argued for the importance of political conventions as a unique opportunity for nominees to present themselves to a large audience,” making the argument for their continued importance to public political discourse, according to “Conventional Wisdom: Putting National Party Convention Ratings in Context.”

Additionally, “at the end of the convention, party activists return to their communities energized for the fall campaign and, if all goes well, the presidential ticket emerges with a ‘convention bounce,’” making party conventions important on the grassroots and national level, according to “Democracy in Action.”

Conventions don’t play the role decision-making role they used to in the American political process; however, many argue there is still a place for party conventions in modern campaigns. The question remains, as we approach the 2012 conventions in Charlotte and Tampa, how will conventions play into the presidential race as well as races down ballot?

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