The latest polls show a dead heat between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich in Florida, but when the presidential primary votes are counted Tuesday only one will lay claim to the 50 Florida delegates to the GOP national convention in Tampa.
So what? Well, ultimately the primary season is a contest for who can secure the 1,144 delegates required to win the nomination. If Gingrich and Romney continue the way they're going, the race could be a drawn-out fight for every last delegate.
That in turn could lead to an unlikely but entirely plausible nightmare for the Republican National Committee — with Florida once again being at the center of a bitter vote counting dispute.
The question boils down to this: Did the RNC properly allow the Republican Party of Florida to decree its primary a winner-take-all contest for Florida delegates? Or should Florida's 50 delegates in fact be divvied up proportionally by each candidate's share of the primary vote?
"The rule is absolutely clear — it should be proportional,'' said former RNC Chairman Michael Steele, who led the national party when the rules were drawn up.
Yes, it sounds like an arcane debate about the minutiae of party rules. But if you're the candidate who spends million of dollars and finishes a close second in Florida, it matters a lot whether the winner leaves Florida with 50 more delegates than you or five. And if the primary turns out to be a long slog where only 50 delegates separate the two front-runners, the Florida delegates could determine the nominee.
"It could be a mess," said Steele.