A brokered convention for Mitt Romney, and why it won’t happen

at 09:23 AM ET, 01/11/2012

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Now that Mitt Romney has gone two-for-two in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, the question is whether his wins will be enough to chase his opponents from the race and effectively end it in January.

But there is a train of thought, at least among some in the chattering classes, that even a sustained string of victories won’t be enough for the former Massachusetts governor.

They argue that there is such resistance to Romney in the GOP that, even if he continues to win, he may not be able to win a majority of delegates to the Republican National Convention.

If that were the case, it would lead to a brokered convention, in which the GOP would head to Tampa later this year without a nominee.

It’s a political junkie’s fantasy. But mostly, it’s just a fantasy.

There are all kinds of reasons to believe that this won’t happen. We explore three of the big ones below.

1. Resistance to Romney is over-stated

While it’s become clear that many in the GOP are seeking an alternative to the prohibitive favorite, it’s also pretty clear that Romney is an acceptable alternative if and when it comes time for the party to embrace him.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows 61 percent of Republicans view Romney favorably and just 18 percent view him unfavorably. That may not be as high as he or his supporters would like, but well more than a majority of Republicans say they like Romney and, it would seem to follow, would vote for him.

Romney hasn’t risen much in the polls, passing 30 percent in the Gallup national tracking poll for the first time just this week. But that doesn’t mean that the remaining two-thirds of Republicans won’t vote for him. Indeed, most of them probably would.

2. His opponents need money

Even if Ron Paul can likely stay in the race for quite some time thanks to a committed and financially generous base of support, other candidates probably don’t have that luxury. That’s because running a campaign requires lots of money, and that money tends to flow to the frontrunner and away from everyone else.

“I just don’t see a brokered convention happening,” said former Republican National Committee chief of staff Mike Leavitt. “I believe Romney ... will continue to rack up wins, which will dry up the money for all the other candidates.”

For there to be a brokered convention, Paul and another GOP candidate would likely have to stay in the race till the end to keep stealing delegates from Romney. Not only would they have to convince voters that they are still worth voting for, but they would have to beg them for money to stay afloat. And that’s tough.

What’s more, Romney’s campaign pointed out Tuesday that many of his opponents have failed to qualify for some contests — the latest being Jon Huntsman in Arizona, but also everyone but Paul and Romney in Virginia — or haven’t maximized the number of delegates they can win in a states like Tennessee and Illinois because they didn’t file for a whole slate of delegates. All of this will help Romney win more delegates.

Which brings us to...

3. The delegate system

There has been much written about how the Republican National Committee’s new delegate allotment system is more proportional – versus winner-take-all – and how that could mean the winners of early states don’t win as many delegates as they otherwise would have.

As we wrote back in October, the RNC is not allowing states holding contests before April to award their delegates on a winner-take-all basis.

By not allowing Romney to rack up big margins in early states, the argument goes, it allows for a competitive delegate race in which second- and third-place finishers can keep it close. Keep in mind, Romney has only netted an eight-delegate lead with his two early victories. (For more on the delegate count, check out the Post’s new delegate tracker.)

On its surface, that would seem to allow for a more competitive delegate race — provided the other campaigns can stay afloat, of course.

But that’s only true to a point.

While states can’t go completely winner-take-all before April, they can still allot delegates by congressional district, and that means Romney can still run up some really big margins in some big states.

In Ohio, Michigan and Virginia, for example, the vast majority of delegates are awarded, three at a time, to the winner of each congressional district. So if Romney can win most or all of those congressional districts, he can still notch a huge delegate margin in those states, even though the rest of the state’s delegates are awarded proportionally.

What’s more, states that already broke RNC rules by moving their contests too early, such as Florida and South Carolina, will apparently be allowed to go winner-take-all (the RNC has already halved their delegates and says it can’t punish them a second time for also breaking its allotment rules).

In other words, it’s still very possible for Romney to not take a majority of the vote and still win a clear majority of delegates – even before states are allowed to allot their delegates on a winner-take-all basis in April.

And even if Romney for some reason isn’t winning a majority of delegates by the time April rolls around, he could start racking up big margins in many of the approximately 20 contests thereafter.

Most don’t even think it will get to that point.

“My guess is that we have a nominee by early April, when winner-take-all kicks in,” said Tennessee Republican National Committeeman John Ryder.

“It will take another candidate not only winning, but winning more than once to make this about the delegates,” said Josh Putnam of the great Frontloading HQ blog, which features lots of details on the delegate process. “And I don’t know that I even see that happening.”

Indeed, the new rules for delegate allotment were supported by Romney backers on the committee. So it’s pretty clear that they see a path to victory under those rules.

A brokered convention might be a lot of fun in theory, but right now it’s just a theory.

Romney has little to worry about in this regard, as long as he keeps winning.

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