Austin_Texas Democrats will use both a primary election and precinct caucuses March 4 to allocate the largest single bloc of delegates left on the Democratic presidential nomination calendar.
A total of 193 delegates is at stake.
The primary election will choose 126 of them, but it's really 31 separate elections - one in each state Senate district. Each district gets from two to eight delegates based on the Democratic turnout there in past elections.
The delegates in each state Senate district primary will be allocated proportionally among the candidates, with a minimum of 15 percent of the vote required to qualify for any delegates.
Big city districts in Houston, Dallas and Austin with large Democratic turnout in the 2004 and 2006 general election have more delegates to offer than some predominantly Hispanic districts in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso, which could pose a problem for Hillary Rodham Clinton who has enjoyed solid Hispanic support during earlier primaries.
For instance, a state Senate district in Austin, where 30 percent of residents are Hispanic, will have eight delegates, but a state Senate district in the border city of Brownsville, where the population is 91 percent Hispanic, gets only three.
State Democratic Party spokesman Hector Nieto said Democrats in low-turnout districts have only themselves to blame for the number of delegates they get.
Another 67 delegates will be awarded based on attendance at precinct caucuses - Texas calls them conventions - held as soon as the primary polls close on March 4.
These operate like the better known Iowa caucuses. They elect delegates to county and state Senate district conventions March 29, which in turn elect delegates to the state Democratic convention June 6-7.
The actual number of caucus delegates each candidate gets depends on the preferences of those who show up at the state convention, but theoretically that allocation is prefigured by the results of the March 4 evening caucuses. So news organizations will report the likely number for each candidate based on the caucus results the evening of March 4, just as they do in Iowa and other caucus states.
"Obviously it is a complex system, but the reason it's so complex is to ensure that everyone is properly represented," Nieto said.
Texas has another 35 so-called superdelegates who are not bound by any of this voting. These delegates are members of Congress, Democratic national committee members, and leading state party officials.
"It's not new," Texas Democratic strategist Ed Martin said of the 20-year-old primary-caucus system. "It's a system that's been supported by Democrats" to reward those who turn out for Democrats in the general election.
On the Net:
Texas Democratic Party: http://www.txdemocrats.org