By all measures, Mitt Romney won convincingly in Puerto Rico earlier this month. He captured 83% of the popular vote and all 20 of the island’s pledged delegates. But that’s not all Romney took back to the mainland.

The day after the primary, the Romney campaign announced that Carlos Méndez, chairman of the Puerto Rico Republican Party, had jumped ship, leaving Newt Gingrich’s campaign to endorse the former Massachusetts governor. The switch was a coup for Romney because many state or territory chairs — those coveted “unpledged” delegates — are holding back their support in the GOP nomination process, which is far more than symbolic.

Méndez is one of 117 unpledged Republican National Committee delegates. Each group of three includes the head of the state or territory party, the committeeman and the committeewoman. In many cases, they can vote independently of who their local constituents express as their popular preference. Each state or territory is allotted three delegate slots for these leaders, but some mandate they remain pledged in accordance with the primary results.

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