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Brokered Convention Anyone?

January 25, 2012

Is the Republican Party heded for a brokered convention?

A brokered convention occurs when no one candidate has won enough pledged delegate support to carry a majority. After the first round of voting the delegates are the free to vote how they like in an attempt to get behind one of the candidates. It is at this point that the deals are potentially done and perhaps, a new candidate could emerge for a second round of voting to break the deadlock.

It has to be said that brokered conventions are extremely rare – the last being in 1976 between Reagan and Ford. It is even rarer for a new candidate to emerge to break the deadlock in the second round. In 2008, the Democrat race was extremely close between Clinton and Obama and still a brokered convention was avoided. It may even be more unlikely than ever in terms of the maths than before given that in addition to the pledged delegates win through the primary process there are additional Super Delegates (usually senior party officials) who could break any tie by voting in one direction or another as they are not tied to the primary results.

But what if those Super Delegates don’t want to back any of the candidates going into the convention?

In recent days, following the first three primaries that have produced three different winners, chatter has increased that a brokered convention might be on the cards. With no candidates looking as if they are going to drop out anytime soon and with a majority of states being proportional rather than winner take all, the nomination process is going to be a long haul. It is only after 1 April that the primaries become winner take all with 21 states yet to decide.

Romney has failed to cash in on his presumptive nomination and he now faces an uphill battle in Florida. A loss in Florida will be a big loss and give Gingrich a huge amount of momentum.

If the GOP is in for the long haul then several things might happen:

1)      The electorate, who was never much that enamoured with Romney, falls behind Gingrich – he is winning primaries, voters tend to back winners (why momentum is so important). But with Santorum still in the race Gingrich will find it hard to secure enough proportionally to knock Romney out completely and there is no way Romney is going to drop out.

2)      Voters start to want to prolong the process and a certain amount of tactical voting starts to occur to keep it all fairly even – if this starts to happen it is not impossible that by the time 1 April comes around the pattern continues. Although much harder than in the UK to employ tactical voting it is not impossible.

3)        The longer it goes on the more likely it is that Gingrich implodes. But the GOP electorate has never liked Romney and are waking up to the possibility that there are ways to stop him and keep Gingrich alive.

4)      Party bosses get very nervous about the real possibility that Gingrich might win the nomination outright. There will be little they can do but will be looking around for a candidate than might unify the party at a brokered convention – or as a viable VP pick if Gingrich does look as if he is going to win outright and attempt to apply some pressure.

Statistically a brokered convention is unlikely but there are going to be a lot of people getting very nervous with a dragged out process.

The GOP will have a number of problems with a brokered convention and finding a “new” candidate to break the tie if it goes all the way. Firstly, is there a consensus candidate that could in? If there is why weren’t they in from the start? Whilst the new candidate might get a bump in the polls just from being fresh and new, the likelihood is those numbers would plummet as soon as the novelty wore off. Without the vetting of the primary process it is unlikely that non-Republican voters are going trust the new guy.

The GOP field is weak and the pool of talent is thin. The Republican talent are all still young and inexperienced (Marco Rubio) or have baggage (Jeb Bush) and none of the candidates that are touted as possible have ever run a national campaign. The party is divisively split between those who identify themselves as Tea Party, Evangelicals, Libertarians and Social Conservatives. There is always going to be some cross over between the factions but they all have they hard core support that is entrenched and whilst they might all coalesce around one candidate come the general election it is doubtful that they would back down in the selection of that candidate, especially in the case of a brokered convention and a new person entering the field.

The Republicans are facing a huge problem and at the moment they look divided and weak. To independents they look out of touch, incoherent and completely unelectable.

Contrast that with Obama and his State of the Union address last night. A powerful and impassioned speech designed to launch a re-election campaign and set the record straight on his achievements. As things stand the only thing that is going to stop his re-election is a massive financial meltdown.

Praise be.

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