I wonder what Republican voters will think when they learn that their votes in the Pennsylvania primaries mean nothing to the Republican establishment.

“The Republican Party needs to put forward a ticket which allows us to attract swing voters, attract Democrats,” [Republican Rep. Phil] English (R-Erie) said, “and build a working coalition to make a state like Pennsylvania competitive.”

Complicating things – and perhaps playing into party chieftains’ hands – is the way Pennsylvania Republicans choose their delegation. At a time when Santorum most needs to cut Romney’s advantage in delegate strength, GOP strategists say he could wind up with few, if any, delegates here – even if he carries the popular vote.

In the state’s two-tiered presidential primary, the popular vote is a nonbinding “beauty contest.” Potential delegates to the summer GOP nominating convention run separately on the ballot in their home congressional districts – uncommitted to any presidential candidate.

The aspiring delegates on the ballot include a virtual who’s who of party elders: members of the GOP state committee, current and former members of Congress, local elected officials, and activists with strong party ties. Though Pennsylvania’s Republican leadership is officially neutral, it has been leaning toward Romney, and there is what one operative called a “presumption” that delegates will be receptive to what the party – and Gov. Corbett, also officially neutral – wants.

“Winning the primary doesn’t mean the delegates follow,” said Alan Novak, a former state GOP chairman who is supporting Romney. “Most of the delegates will be familiar with the process … pragmatic political thinkers.”

Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, both of whom have Pennsylvania roots, have managed to place supporters on the ballot as delegate candidates in many congressional districts. But Republican operatives figure only about a half-dozen of those candidates are solidly in the Santorum camp.

The contours of the campaign played a part in this. Santorum began as an underdog who bet everything on the Iowa caucuses – which he narrowly won – and then scrambled to organize in succeeding state contests, leaving him necessarily more focused on day-to-day survival than recruiting potential delegates back in Pennsylvania.

All of which make it easier for state party leaders to muscle delegates into Romney’s column, regardless of how well Santorum does with primary voters.

The most important thing here is that the people of Pennsylvania know Rick Santorum best, and we, including most Republicans, think he’s a sanctimonious fraud and a nasty unpleasant person.

But it’s also important that people understand that the nominating process is not an election. It’s a process where voters are led to believe that they are making a choice but in which their wishes can be discarded at will. Go vote for Santorum or Romney if you wish, but the party bosses will most likely ignore what you say if they don’t like what they hear.

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