What do you get when you have three candidates, three strategies, and a 1200 delegate requirement to be the nomineee? No, its not a joke, its the situation currently facing the GOP. Even after 3 debates, millions of dollars spent, and six months of campaigning, the Republican party still lacks a clear nominee. If anything, the race has become closer since the start of the year.
When the Primary race started in January, there were three big-name candidates: Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and John McCain. Giuliani and McCain were in a tight race for the top spot, while Romney trailed far behind and focused on the early states. After a couple of months, Giuliani became the clear leader, and actually had the lead in enough states to win the nomination before the convention.
That all changed after the first three debates. The reality of Giuliani’s pro-abortion views lost him considerable support in the South, while Romney’s charisma and overall appeal gave him an important bump in the polls – pushing him into the lead in both Iowa and New Hampshire. John McCain’s campaign hit problem after problem – pushing him down so far that his status as a “top tier” candidate is now debatable. Oh yeah, and then Fred Thompson jumped started to think about getting into the race. With the prospect of one of their own getting into the race, many Southern Evangelicals changed their support overnight and got behind Thompson.
Now, we are eight months into the race – and if anything, its only gotten tighter. There are still three big-name candidates, and each is playing by a different strategy. For Romney, his strategy is to win in the early states, and use that momentum to win in other areas. For Giuliani, the strategy is to use his name-recognition and hero status to win the big states and perform well on Super Tuesday. The third candidate, Thompson, seems to be playing a southern strategy, using his instant appeal to Evangelical Christians to win most Southern states. So far, each strategy appears to be paying off. Each of these strategies has its strong and weak points, but when combined, they all have one big flaw – none of them are good enough to win enough delegate votes to win before the convention.
It seems to be becoming more and more likely that , even after more than a year of campaigning, no candidate is going to have a lock on the nomination before the Convention in Minnestoa next fall. Unless some major changes occur within the next four months, the GOP is going to find itself with a split convention. While its possible and even likely that the race could see a major shake-up before the Iowa Caucus, it is also entirely possible that we could end up with three very credible candidates, each with a sizeable number of delegates and the ability to win the nomination.
If we do, in fact, end up with a split convention, Rudy Giuliani is likely to have the most delegate votes, but that means very little after the first round of balloting. It takes a majority of delegate votes to win the nomination – slightly more than 1200, I think, and if no winner is produced after the first vote, then delegates are no longer required to support the candidate who won their states in the primaries. Split conventions are extremely rare, and it hasn’t happened on the Republican side since 1976, when Ronald Reagan lost the nomination to then-President Ford.
How a split convention would play out, who would become the ultimate nominee, and what the ramifications would be in the general election are unclear. One train of thought is that a split convention makes the party look weak and divided – turning off some voters and producing a loss for the party. The other view is that the party is helped by a split convention, both becuase more people will want to watch a split convention, and becuase the uncertainty prevents the Democrats from attacking one candidate. I don’t know which result is more likely, though I tend to believe that the division that is displayed by a split convention turns off some voters.
The larger question however, is who would win if we ended up with a split convention, and I think the jury is still out on that. I want to believe that Romney would be the winner, but I think Giuliani could also end up with the nomination.