With a primary in May, Arkansas rarely has much or any impact on the Presidential race.  In 2008, the state sought to change this by conducting a separate Presidential primary in February. But after weighing the cost to taxpayers against the small impact the move made, the state legislature wisely decided to move the Presidential primary back to the regular primary date.  This year that will be May 22.

However, a rule change as well as penalties imposed on some the early primary states could create a unique opportunity for Arkansas’ vote to actually matter.  This year, the Republican National Committee set the rules up to where states having primaries before April 3 could not use a “winner take all” system but instead had to apportion their delegates proportionally based on the vote.  So while 45 states vote before Arkansas, only 8 of these states are “winner take all” states – meaning whomever receives the most votes gets all the delegates for that state.

In addition, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Arizona, and Michigan were all penalized by the RNC for moving up their primaries before the rules allowed with half their delegates taken away as a result.  South Carolina and Florida are two of the eight “winner take all” states before Arkansas so their strength in terms of delegates is somewhat diminished.

All of this sets up a primary calendar which could last much longer than previous primaries.  Oddly enough, backers of Romney supported this rule change when it was made.  The thinking at the time was that a prolonged primary fight would benefit Romney who had the funds and organization to outlast his opponents.

Although this is still the case, Romney now might be regretting these rules as he has a chance to put the nomination away quickly after his wins in Iowa and New Hampshire.  However, if one of his opponents can pull off a victory in South Carolina and/or Florida, then we could be in for a very long fight.

This could happen if the field gets narrowed down to Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and one other candidate.  Romney is the frontrunner with deep pockets and Ron Paul has die hard supporters who will keep him in it until the very end.  Paul’s chances of actually winning are very slim, but will attract between 10 and 20 percent of the vote in virtually every state contest and he is gearing up to compete hard for delegates in the caucus states in February.

That leaves the four other candidates, primarily Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum with Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman thrown into the mix, competing to be the Romney alternative.

Now here is where it gets interesting for Arkansas. The 45 states that vote before us have a total of around 1,817 delegates up for grabs.  It takes 1,144 delegates to secure the nomination.  That means someone will have to win roughly 63% of the delegates in the states before Arkansas, which will be tough to do unless everybody except Romney and Paul drop out.

So we could still matter. In fact, perhaps Arkansas will be the state to give one of the candidates the magical 1,144th delegate that ends the race.

To track the delegate count, check out the Washington Post’s delegate tracker. Also, here is a guide from the RNC on the delegate rules for each state.

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Jason Tolbert is the moderator for his opinion blog, The Tolbert Report. He can be reached by e-mail at Jason@TolbertReport.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TolbertReport.