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By Jay Cost

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Looking ahead to the Republican Convention

As the Republican race is still wide open, I thought it time to review how delegates to the Republican National Convention will be allocated this year. There has been talk about a "brokered convention." And while I think that there will probably be a clear nominee come September 1, 2008 - the probability of a convention fight is much greater than it has been in the last thirty years. Accordingly, we are well advised to get a lay of the land, to see exactly how the GOP convention might proceed if there is no clear winner.

We will look at three relevant features: how delegates to the convention are chosen, what are the factors that could cause a brokered convention, and how a deal could be worked out if there is no clear nominee.

Delegate Selection

First off, the Republican presidential nominee is chosen by delegates who vote by ballot. These delegates have been selected to attend the national convention - most of them are directly determined by state primary and caucus results. To win the nomination, a candidate must win a majority of the 2,380 delegates in attendance. That means the first to get 1,191 delegates wins.

There are four types of delegates to the Republican National Convention. The first type consists of elected members of the Republican National Committee (RNC). Each state is allocated three such delegates. Second, each state gets three delegates for every congressional district. Third, each state gets ten "at large" delegates. Fourth, each state gets "bonus" delegates added to their at large delegation based upon how Republican the state has voted recently. [Note that United States territories like Puerto Rico and Guam also receive at large and RNC delegates.]

So, put all of these rules together - and we get a result like the following.

California has 173 delegates to send to the convention. That is:

- 3 delegates from the RNC

- 10 at large delegates

- 53 congressional districts X 3 delegates per congressional districts = 159 district delegates

- 1 bonus delegate because it reelected Governor Schwarzenegger in 2006

Pennsylvania has 74 delegates to send to the convention. That is:

- 3 delegates from the RNC

- 10 at large delegates

- 19 congressional districts X 3 delegates per congressional district = 57 district delegates

- 1 bonus delegate for U.S. senator + 1 bonus delegate because a majority of its House delegation from 2004 through 2007 was Republican + 1 bonus delegate for state house control + 1 bonus delegate for state senate control = 4 bonus delegates

A convention would be "brokered" if, on the first ballot, no candidate wins a majority of delegates. In that situation, another ballot would be taken to find a majority winner. And another ballot and another and another until one candidate has won a majority. The term "brokered" refers to the need for a settlement to be brokered among candidates, delegates, and party leaders. If no candidate is the majority winner, a deal will need to be worked out to induce some delegates to change their votes.

What Could Cause a Brokered Convention?

Obviously, the critical factor for a brokered convention is a situation in which no candidate has a majority of delegates. This is why I would wager the Republicans are more likely to have a brokered convention than the Democrats. If delegates are split in just two ways, between Clinton and Obama, then there is only one situation in which a brokered convention could occur: a strict numerical tie. Of course, if Edwards has delegates - there would be other ways for a stalemate to occur; however, the fewer delegates he has won, the less likely such a situation would be. If, on the other hand, delegates are split between Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson - a brokered convention is much more likely to occur.

Another important factor is how delegates are allocated. An interesting development in the Republican Party over the last few years has been a movement from winner-take-all delegate allocation schemes to proportional allocation. This makes a big difference - in a winner-take-all contest, the winner of the primary or caucus wins all of the delegates. The losers win nothing. Accordingly, the probability of a brokered condition decreases as the gap between winners and losers increases.

This year, however, the Republican Party has twelve states where at large and congressional district delegates are chosen by proportional representation. What is more, seven states have a mix of winner-take-all and proportional rules. For instance, Alabama's delegates are allocated winner-take-all if the winner receives over 50% of the vote. If he does not, the delegates are allocated proportionally. Meanwhile, twenty-one states plus the District of Columbia allocate their at large and congressional district delegates on a winner-take all basis, and eleven states select their delegates at state conventions or something similar. This means that, in many states, candidates who lose the statewide vote can win delegates - thus giving them a better chance to scrap together enough supporters to make a run at the nomination.

A third factor that could contribute to a brokered convention is the fact that many states allocate congressional district delegates based on who won the congressional district - not who won the state. Ohio, for instance, allocates its 10 at large and 21 bonus delegates based on who wins the most votes in Ohio. But it allocates its 54 congressional district delegates based on who won which congressional districts. So, once again, a candidate who lost the statewide vote could still win a few delegates from Ohio because he won congressional districts.

Resolving the Dispute

Suppose that these factors make it so that no candidate wins a majority of delegates. What would happen next? Obviously, a deal would have to be worked out between candidates, party leaders, and delegates - but the contours of such an agreement would probably not resemble the ones brokered in the "smoke-filled" rooms. In the modern era - many delegates are bound to primary and caucus votes. That is, they are sent to the convention forced, in one way or another, to vote the way their state voted.

Out of the 2,380 delegates sent to Minneapolis St. Paul - 1,729 of them will be bound in some formal way (this figure excludes Ohio, Washington, North Carolina, and the Virgin Islands, whose delegates are "morally bound," "unofficially bound," or "requested" to vote for their candidate). These break down in the following way:

- 463 delegates will be bound through the convention.

- 565 delegates will be bound through one ballot. That is, they have to follow the results of the state election on the first ballot. After that, if no candidate has a majority of delegates, they are free to vote as they please.

- 383 will be bound through two ballots.

- 318 will be bound through three ballots.

The remaining 651 are not bound in a formal way. They can vote however they want from the first ballot.

What effect will this system have? My intuition is that it might make it harder to resolve a dispute prior to the convention. The Republicans will finish allocating delegates sometime in late June. So, we should know by then if no candidate has won a majority of delegates. However, how could the various factions work out an agreement that can be implemented before the convention? They might be able to - but it will be harder because many delegates actually have to cast at least one ballot for their initial candidates (unless they are released by a candidate who withdraws - and it is unlikely that a candidate with a significant batch of delegates would withdraw before the convention). What is more, candidates might be interested in waiting to see how the unbound delegates behave in the first few ballots to get a sense of their full strength. They might also be willing to wait until the fourth ballot to see if they can pick up any of the formerly bound delegates. All of this could complicate a pre-convention deal in a whole host of ways: strategic candidates might prefer to wait for a few rounds of balloting to see where they stand.

Another complicating factor is that patronage is no longer an emollient. For instance, how would you "buy off" 500 or so die-hard Romney delegates? In this age, the party lacks patronage resources to give them consolation prizes. And, for that matter, Romney delegates would probably not want anything except a Romney nomination. It is unclear to me how one candidate could negotiate any deals except by offering the vice-presidency to one of the losers - which probably would do little good if the delegates are split roughly equal among three or more candidates. It is easy to envision a cycle. The Romney people buy off the Guiliani people by making Guiliani the vice-presidential nominee. That leaves the McCain people out in the cold, so they offer Guliani the presidential nomination if he makes McCain the secretary of state. The Romney people respond by offering McCain the top spot if Romney can have the veep position. And so on.

All in all, if there is no clear delegate winner in the summer, and a deal needs to be brokered - I expect it to look very different from those hammered out in the classic brokered conventions of the past.

-Jay Cost