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Path to a Brokered GOP Convention Emerges

Path to a Brokered GOP Convention Emerges

By Sean Trende - February 9, 2012


For many conservative Republicans, the dream outcome of the primary season is a brokered convention. Disappointed in the four remaining choices, they hope to change horses in August, and draft their preferred candidate, be it Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, or Paul Ryan.

I've been adamant that such an outcome is extremely unlikely. For a brokered convention to occur, there has to be an almost perfect storm of events; the GOP elites can’t just declare shenanigans on the primary season and select a new nominee. Instead, something has to prevent any of the current candidates from clinching a majority of the delegates; if one of them amasses that majority, he will be the nominee on the first ballot at the convention in Tampa.

My assumption -- and the assumption of many -- was that the GOP fight would eventually degenerate into an ideological battle between the very conservative and somewhat conservative/moderate wings of the party, with Romney on one side and a single alternative on the other. Unless there was a late entrant or Ron Paul caught fire in the caucus states, someone was virtually assured of claiming the requisite number of delegates in that scenario.

But for the first time, the two way faceoff doesn't seem inevitable, and a viable path to a brokered convention is beginning to emerge. Let’s start with something else I overlooked. The GOP does have super-delegates of a sort, in the form of the 63 RNC members. They aren’t as numerous as they are in the Democratic Party, but they are still there. While many of them have already declared allegiance to one candidate or another, those commitments can evaporate quickly, as Hillary Clinton learned to her sorrow in 2008.

But more importantly, demographic and geographic splits are beginning to surface in the GOP that resemble the splits in the Democratic Party in 2008. That year, Hillary Clinton laid claim to working-class whites and Latino voters, while Barack Obama laid claim to college-educated whites and African-Americans. This divide continued throughout the primary, right up to the last day of voting.

The GOP split is more speculative at that point. To see it, let’s examine a map of U.S. counties and how they have voted so far. Blue counties backed Romney, red backed Gingrich, green are for Santorum, while white have gone for some other candidate (or not yet voted).

Romney has done well in New Hampshire and south Florida; the latter is basically the North transplanted to the South. This suggests continued strength in the Northeast. He’s also done well in the Mountain West: Nevada was in his camp, as was a large portion of the Western Slope of Colorado. Note also the handful of counties in southern Colorado that went for Romney; they are heavily Mexican-American, and Romney has run well with Latino voters in the GOP contests thus far.

Next, Gingrich. As I noted a few days ago, there is continued resistance to Mitt Romney in the GOP among evangelicals. These voters are concentrated largely, but not exclusively, in the South. And as we see, the former House speaker ran well in South Carolina as well as in northern Florida. This caused many to conclude that Gingrich was on the verge of emerging as the definitive not-Romney.

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Sean Trende is senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics. He is a co-author of the 2014 Almanac of American Politics and author of The Lost Majority. He can be reached at strende@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @SeanTrende.

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