Rick Santorum’s three-state sweep in last night’s caucuses has once again raised the specter of a brokered Republican convention, as politicos start to wonder whether or not Mitt Romney will be able to rack up the delegates he needs to score an outright win at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this summer.
It is easy to dismiss the idea of a brokered convention as the bored chatter of Washington’s punditry. But Santorum’s caucus victories — combined with Newt Gingrich’s win in South Carolina — make it hard to ignore the fact that there is a sustained resistance to Romney among the Republican rank-and-file that could follow him all the way to the convention floor.
At this point, only a small percentage of the 2,286 delegates have been allocated (a candidate needs at least 1,144 delegates to secure an outright win at the convention, otherwise delegates are free to vote for whomever they choose.) Romney holds the majority, but his opponents are not far behind.
Conventional wisdom holds that Romney will start to pick up steam as the race moves to bigger states, and Republican voters begrudgingly accept that he is their best chance to beat Obama in 2012. By this line of thinking, the other GOP presidential candidates will slowly drop out of the race for want of votes, momentum, and money.
But if the 2012 Republican presidential race has taught us anything, it is that accurate conventional wisdom is the exception, not the rule. In reality, there are three factors that make a brokered convention scenario possible this year:
Ron Paul and The Caucuses
Sixteen states and U.S. territories vote in caucuses in 2012, and will send a combined 463 delegates to the national convention. Unlike primary elections, most caucus delegates are “unbound,” which means that they are free to support whichever candidate they choose, regardless of who wins their state.
Ron Paul’s entire campaign strategy is based on winning these caucus delegates — and there is evidence that he is succeeding. The Paul campaign has built up extensive field organisations in most caucus states, training Ron Paul supporters to stick around after the caucus vote to make sure they are elected as delegates to their state’s county conventions, the first step towards becoming a delegate to the RNC.
Despite Santorum’s victories in Iowa, Minnesota, and Colorado, and Romney’s win in Nevada, the Paul campaign says that their candidate is winning the delegate race in these states, having picked up a disproportionate number of delegate slots compared to Paul’s actual vote count.
While the campaign may be overstating this success, Paul’s aggressive delegate strategy could nevertheless pose a problem for Romney. Whereas most delegates would eventually drift over to the frontrunner as their original candidate dropped out of the race, Paul’s supporters are in this for the long haul — and you can bet they will make their voices heard in Tampa this August.
Santorum’s continued success in hardcore conservative strongholds (Iowa, Mississippi, Colorado, Minnesota) is a major indication that the GOP’s religious conservative voters are still deeply unsatisfied with Mitt Romney.
That could pose a major obstacle for Romney as the race moves down South for Super Tuesday. Georgia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma all have a significant number of social conservative voters — and all three states will award delegates proportionally. Even if Romney wins the popular vote here, it is very possible that either Santorum, Gingrich, or both, will snag some delegates in these contests, eating away at Romney’s total count.
For the moment, Gingrich appears to have totally imploded — but given his apparent political indestructibility, it seems safe to assume that another comeback is underway. The former House Speaker has pledged to stay in the race through the spring, and there is no evidence that he will back down from those plans.
Business Insider has learned that the Gingrich campaign has now launched a revamped delegate strategy focused on specific regions that are sympathetic to Gingrich. Obviously that includes the South, but the campaign has indicated that Gingrich also plans to target evangelical/Tea Party strongholds in bigger states, like Ohio, Texas, and New York.
While it is hard to see the former House Speaker scoring an outright win in any of these states, a few strong second-place finishes could still keep him in the delegate race. But if — and this is a big if — Gingrich can keep his fundraising up until June, he might even be able to give Romney a run for his money in California, a winner-take-all state with a built-in base of evangelical voters.
In the end, it is still too early to predict which way the rollercoaster 2012 race will go. But unlike in past presidential races, none of the also-ran candidates have a vested interest in dropping out and supporting the presumptive frontrunner (even Gingrich has got to know he’s not on the VP shortlist). On the contrary, Paul, Gingrich, and Santorum all have something to gain from chipping away at Romney until the bitter end.
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