For the first time since 1976, the Republican Party might be forced to choose its nominee through a contested national convention. That year, the race between incumbent President Gerald Ford and former California Governor Ronald Reagan was still too close to call by the time the RNC convention began in mid-August. Ford narrowly won a contentious floor fight. The 2012 GOP nomination could be headed for a similar showdown. It is very possible that no candidate will garner 1,144 delegates before the convention begins in late August.
This race remains extremely volatile. Right now, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are the national frontrunners. Romney has the most delegates, around 100, depending on which counter your look at. Santorum has won the most states and leads the national polls. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul have vowed to stay in the race all the way to convention. Gingrich’s super PAC just received another $10 million boost from Sheldon Alderson. That gives him the resources to compete for the next few weeks. Paul’s campaign and super PAC are also doing well in fundraising.
As long as all four candidates continue their campaigns and no clear frontrunner emerges, the likelihood of a contested convention grows stronger. Although only eight states have held presidential contests so far, the math and the volatility of the race do not favor any single candidate picking up enough delegates to clinch the nomination. Currently, Intrade puts the odds of a brokered convention at 20 percent. Those odds could go up significantly after next Tuesday.
There is a great deal riding on the next two primary states, Arizona and Michigan. Voters there head to the polls on February 28. Arizona is “winner-take-all”. Michigan is Romney’s home state. It is crucial for him to win it. If Rick Santorum claims either state, he becomes the sole frontrunner.
The latest polls show Romney a few points behind Santorum in Michigan, but gaining ground. If Romney wins both states convincingly next Tuesday, he regains the mantle of frontrunner and the momentum that goes with it. If he loses either state, the likelihood of the GOP race going to convention becomes more probable. Even a narrow victory in Michigan does little to help Romney. It makes him look vulnerable.
After next Tuesday, the most significant day on the calendar is March 6, “Super Tuesday”, when 10 states cast their ballots. The biggest events are in Ohio (66 delegates), where Santorum currently leads, and Georgia (76 delegates), where home state favorite Newt Gingrich is likely to win.
Let’s assume Romney captures all the momentum in the race and wins each of the next 35 contests, through April 24. It’s a highly unlikely scenario. Even if it happens, he still might not pick up enough delegates to clinch the nomination. 19 of those 35 states award delegates on a proportional basis. He would have to win each state handily, which also means defeating each of the other three candidates in their home states. That is improbable.
Only 13 primaries remain after April 24. The three most important contests out of those 13 are in New Jersey, California and Utah. Each is “winner-take-all”. California awards 172 delegates. If one candidate dominates California, it could conceivably send him over the required threshold of 1,144. Romney is likely to sweep Utah’s 40 delegates, since it is a predominantly Mormon state. That is the final primary, on June 26.
Mitt Romney is still the favorite, although Rick Santorum has the momentum right now. Romney’s financial resources and organization are far greater than Santorum’s. The former Pennsylvania senator has a few more disadvantages. He failed to get on the ballot in Virginia and Indiana, though the campaign is challenging the Indiana decision. They are significant primary contests. Virginia awards 49 delegates on a proportional basis. Romney’s only competition there is Ron Paul. The Hoosier State’s 46 delegates are “winner-take-all”.
Ron Paul’s campaign is complicating things with their strategy of picking up delegates in the non-binding caucus states. The Paul folks make a stronger effort than the other campaigns to fight for delegate slots. Campaign representatives have publicly said Ron Paul will claim most of the delegates in caucus states like Iowa, Nevada and Maine. If they are successful in procuring these national delegate positions, it adds to the likelihood of a contested convention.
It is also too early to count out Newt Gingrich. His debate performances have boosted him to the top of the polls on two separate occasions. If he can pull off another stem-winder on Wednesday, the former House Speaker could jump back into contention.
No matter what happens, the GOP race will not be decided until at least April 24. If Santorum remains competitive with Romney, while Paul and Gingrich keep fighting, the Republican Party probably will not decide its nominee until late August at the RNC convention in Tampa.
This race has already shown us anything can happen. We saw seven different candidates rise to the top in Iowa. There have been at least four different national frontrunners. But we have not seen anything yet. This primary is far from over. Republicans might not pick their presidential candidate for another six months. The real fight for a GOP nominee is still in front of us.
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