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A Brokered Convention? Consider the Possibilities

By Peter Baker
As voters in Michigan head to the polls today, they have the chance to make history. Not because Republicans there may hand a victory to Arizona Sen. John McCain, who would be the nation's oldest president ever, or former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who would be the first Mormon in the Oval Office. But because they may help propel the Republican race toward the first brokered convention in more than a half-century.

Yes, yes, we know. Every four years, the political class, including wise-acre journalists, gets all caught up in breathless speculation about the prospect of a brokered convention. After all, no presidential nomination has required more than a single ballot since 1952 and the prospect of actual drama seems like such a refreshing thought at conventions that in recent times have been sucked dry of any suspense whatsoever. And then every four years, the notion evaporates as modern political reality takes hold again.

In fact, there's still every reason to think the same will happen this year, that both parties will shuffle through their choices and effectively coalesce around a nominee by the time spring arrives. And yet, and yet -- it's hard not to ponder the possibilities, particularly on the Republican side, where the race is as unsettled as any in decades. If Romney wins his home state today, then the first three major contests will have produced three winners after former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee's victory in Iowa and McCain's triumph in New Hampshire. Even if McCain wins today in Michigan and manages to keep the momentum rolling into South Carolina on Saturday, Rudy Giuliani waits in Florida, and if the former New York mayor wins there on Jan. 29, the Republicans could head into Super Tuesday on Feb. 5 with no clear front-runner.

As our esteemed Takemaster Dan Balz writes on the front page of today's Washington Post, Feb. 5 offers an enormous basket of delegates and an equally sizable array of challenges to the candidates. (Balz, by the way, is way too keen a political observer to fall into the brokered convention frenzy, at least in today's story.) The Democrats will hold contests in 22 states on that day with 52 percent of pledged delegates at stake, while the Republicans will compete in 21 states with 41 percent of all delegates on the line. No one on the Republican side appears to have the money and staff to effectively compete across the board, and if none of the candidates arrives on Feb. 5 with a wave of momentum, it's hard to see any of them running the table.

Commentators have been anticipating and forecasting the possibilities for months. Way back in September, which feels like ancient times now, John B. Judis laid out a scenario in the New Republic that assumed Giuliani would still be strong, that Romney would win Iowa and New Hampshire and that former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson would be formidable in the South, none of which is true anymore. In Judis's hypothetical scenario, the front-runner after Feb. 5 would be Giuliani, with roughly one-third of the delegates chosen by then, followed by Thompson and Romney. "If there is no clear front-runner by then," he wrote, "the race will probably continue on into June and perhaps even up until the convention."

The conjecture heated up in December as Huckabee appeared likely to upend Romney's early-state strategy. Ralph Z. Hallow wrote in the Washington Times that Republicans were looking at the possibility of a contested convention. "As late as it is in this election cycle, no candidate in our party has moved enough to be assured of the nomination," he quoted Republican National Committee treasurer Timothy J. Morgan saying, "and the models I look at suggest a serious possibility we could have a brokered convention." David Freddoso at National Review has written repeatedly about the possibility in recent weeks. In December, he wrote that the calendar seemed to favor the odds of a fractured field. "Given this dynamic, and the lack of a clear front-runner at the moment, the odds of a brokered convention have never been better," he wrote.

The talk has only escalated as Iowa and New Hampshire voters weighed in. "None of our candidates seem to be able to break through," former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum said on Fox News last week as voting began in the Granite State. "And if you look at the candidates, all have serious problems. I think, it's my prediction, I think we're headed for a brokered convention. I don't think we're going to get a nominee." Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) even postulated that a contested convention could be a useful thing for a Republican Party trying to find its way after President Bush. "I just think there's nothing unhealthy about the Republican Party having a serious discussion," he said Sunday on ABC's "This Week." "We are at the end of the George W. Bush era. We are at the end of the Reagan era. We're at a point in time where we're about to start redefining ... the nature of the Republican Party in response to what the country needs."

The conventional wisdom, of course, is that a brokered convention is good news for political journalists and junkies but bad news for a party. While the opposition rallies around a single leader in the spring, your party is divided and wasting resources with internal fighting all the way until the end of summer. Brokered conventions were common for much of the country's history, of course. Abraham Lincoln won the Republican nomination after trailing on the first ballot in 1860; the Democratic candidate required 102 ballots to secure the nomination in 1924. But when television arrived on the scene, party poohbahs realized that pictures of discord were not helpful. The last conventions that went beyond a single ballot were the Republican gathering in 1948, which eventually nominated Thomas E. Dewey, and the Democratic meeting in 1952, which eventually nominated Adlai Stevenson. Neither one of those candidates won in the fall, and parties have managed to avoid multiballot nominations ever since. The closest in modern times came in 1976, when neither President Gerald R. Ford nor challenger Ronald Reagan arrived at the Republican convention with a majority of the delegates, but Ford rallied to win on the first ballot anyway.

The normal factors militating against a brokered convention themselves may be mitigated this year, at least on the Republican side. Normally a party's outgoing president or its top leadership can pressure trailing candidates to drop out after primaries have established a front-runner. But this time, some argue, neither Bush nor the party leadership has enough clout to necessarily force such an outcome, and since four of the five leading Republican candidates are not actually officeholders at the moment, there are fewer levers of influence on them.

It may fall instead on donors to play that role. Candidates with enough delegates to stay in the race but not much momentum could easily find themselves cut off and short of cash. It's easy to see Feb. 5 breaking one or more candidates financially and effectively forcing them to give up. But no Republican has so much money at this point that he can buy his way to the nomination.

So will there be a brokered convention? One thing we should have learned after last week's New Hampshire primary is that predictions this year are hazardous at best. Still, it would be interesting.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 15, 2008; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Morning Cheat Sheet , Primaries , The GOP  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: A McCain-Thompson Alliance?
Next: A Clinton Playbook That Doesn't Fit Their Opponent


Funny, though, the way things actually turned out. The names and parties are backwards.
As the author stated, predictions this year have been hazardous, at best.

Posted by: Non-Cas Fan | May 7, 2008 8:31 AM | Report abuse

I'd love to see a brokered convention in the Republican party, just to see the various factions of the party argue over platform and see them making deals and concessions. You'd have:

1. The Wall St/Corporate crowd: only sane wing of the party, if not a bit greedy!

2. The Neo-Nazi Fascist Republicans: would demand nuclear warfare on Mexico, taking the Patriot Act to the "next level" by repealing the Bill of Rights and everyone in the country be branded with a national ID number--to protect us from the terrorists, of course

3. The American Taliban (the religious right): would demand a law that all "infidel" Americans convert to the Southern Baptist faith (like John McCain did), would round up all homosexuals, Latinos and atheists in camps, put Joel Osteen on the Supreme Court and the fetus on the American flag.

Posted by: uckeleg | January 18, 2008 1:55 PM | Report abuse

McCain would only be the oldest president if he is elected TWICE!!! This election will NOT make him the oldest president.

Posted by: jhz2 | January 18, 2008 12:19 PM | Report abuse

I have to plead guilty to laughing at those that said that this year there could be a convention where the nomination was actually decided. But now it does not seem so remote of a possibility.

I don't like the term "brokered" because it implies that there would be a shady deal. It would simply be a convention that actually chose a nominee rather than one that coronated one as is the usual case.

One thing working against a competitive convention is the length of time between the end of the primary and caucus process and the convention. It is likely that a deal would be made between some of the candidates before the convention.

But it would be exciting if it happened. Remember the T. T. Claypool character in the movie "The Best Man" screaming, "It's an open convention, anyone can win.!"

Posted by: danielhancock | January 16, 2008 12:18 AM | Report abuse

Both parties could have contested conventions this year. Hillary and Barak are running about even with ambulance chaser Edwards playing the role of spoiler. The GOP is more fractured and it is unlikely that a GOP candidate will have a majority of delegates. Although both conventions could be contested, only the Democrats are likely to be "brokered", as only the Dems have the racial and labor union constituencies to do the brokering. It would be very interesting drama at least.

Posted by: andrewp111 | January 15, 2008 10:08 PM | Report abuse

John McCain is so dumb -- he thinks Czechoslovakia is still a country.

Posted by: info | January 15, 2008 8:29 PM | Report abuse

buzzm1-In as many words as you can come up with, tell me about all the great accomplishments Bloomberg has done for the Rotting Apple.

I look forward to reading your sentance.

Posted by: rat-the | January 15, 2008 7:59 PM | Report abuse

Romney is the best candidate for Michigan and that is rather obvious. He and his wife were born and raised there. More importantly, Romney is the best qualified to fix Michigan's troubled economy and to keep America competitive internationally. Romney has the education, expertise, track record, and values to lead this country and to maintain it's position as a world leader. It doesn't help that McCain smeared his reputation and credibility with the dishonest fliers that he sent out to voters as stated by Newsweek. Newsweek ran a story about this that I read today. It is four pages so I will not paste the whole story here, but you can get the point and read the whole story is you want more McCain's Misleading Mailer

He faults Romney for "providing" state funding for abortions that Romney didn't seek, and courts ordered.
By Brooks Jackson |
Jan 15, 2008 | Updated: 10:40 a.m. ET Jan 15, 2008Summary
McCain is sending out a postcard mailing in South Carolina that is misleading on more than one point.

Posted by: poliscistudent | January 15, 2008 7:31 PM | Report abuse

The more I look at the picture, the more I want Bloomberg to run.

When you are at the door of recession, and depression, from a rapidly failing economy, the President you want, is one with a very, very, strong mind, and a very, very, deep, and intimate knowledge, of business.

It doesn't at all hurt that Bloomberg is also anti-illegal immigration. He sees what it is doing to America, and Americans.

I think Bloomberg may well pick a Vice-President that isn't really a politician, but an individual, well versed and disciplined in the issues overwhelming our country.

Now, if it turns out that Bloomberg wants to bring our troops home from Iraq, he would almost be the perfect 10. And if he stripped Halliburton, of their very lucrative Iraq contracts, and the contracts they have, to manage our 700+ foreign bases, he would be the perfect 10.

Posted by: buzzm1 | January 15, 2008 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Like it matters.

Meanwhile King George just sold smart bombs to the country that attacked us on 9-11.

Any way you slice it, won't be many Red Bushies left in 2009.

Posted by: WillSeattle | January 15, 2008 6:51 PM | Report abuse

I said basically the same thing as Baker back on December 18th: "I know every political junkie likes to talk about the possibility of a convention fight, and in past years I just sighed or snickered when I heard that kind of talk. But with split loyalties in the first few contests and an overloaded Mega Tuesday on February 5th, I think it's not a far-fetched possibility. Am I predicting it? No. But is it more possible than in recent decades? Yes."

Posted by: OCOV | January 15, 2008 6:37 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: plummetforfun | January 15, 2008 6:24 PM | Report abuse

The craziness that Hillary has started by mentioning Civil Rights legislation highlights her hypocrazy.

The following is a portion of Hillary's biography from Wikipedia: College
In 1965, Rodham enrolled in Wellesley College, where she majored in political science.[15] She served as president of the Wellesley Young Republicans organization during her freshman year.[16][17]

Hillary so impressed her classmates as a staunch conservative, she had become the first ever to be the lead speaker of the 1965 commencement to the Wellsley graduating class.

Hillary is not discussing the issues to any extent because she can not do that as a Democrat.

Do yourself a favor and Wikipedia the term 'Progressivism' and seriously ask yourself if she represents the term.

Posted by: theman_in_black | January 15, 2008 6:10 PM | Report abuse

plummetforfun---both parties require the nominee to get more than 50% to be nominated. In the 20's, the Democratic convention went 103 ballots. My prediction: a brokered convention turns to Jeb.

Posted by: mtsher | January 15, 2008 5:41 PM | Report abuse

I suppose this is why it's an election and not a coronation. However, it's looking like the Dems are not better. With Billary, Obama, and Edwards all making strong showings there may not be a plurality there either. It could be a very interesting.

Posted by: bdstauffer | January 15, 2008 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Baker, allow me to earn my Broker's fee!

The obvious Statesmen, Mitt Romney and Huckabee. Two very sharp Legal minds-Thompson and Giuliani, a Labor Law Advocate-Tancredo, a Military Trained Doctor as well as a finance Guru-Dr.Ron Paul, with POSSIBLY a contentious, but Qualified Military Man-John McCain in the Cabinet!

THAT, is a Package Deal, that might just Win against the Socialist Masses of Obasama and Pretty Boy!

Clinton Moderates might even view the collection of Exectutives, as a much better choice for the Exectutive Branch, than a Trail Lawyer, and a Congressional Lawyer, Both of whom have sold out to the World Labor Party, and who are not saying who is in their Cabinet!

WaPo can help arrange my ID for my Brokerage commision!

Your Welcome!

RAT, Esq.

Posted by: rat-the | January 15, 2008 5:06 PM | Report abuse

I read these comments and have to ask, does anyone really get our political system anymore? All these candidates are an abysmal failure at representation. No one speaks for me as a true average, invested citizen in the affairs of our country. It is special interests and personal needs that drives this two party system. I learned long ago that anyone truly qualified to run for public office, at any level, won't do it as what is the point to fight the corruption and narcissism our "leaders" exude.

Just once, would someone who cares get in front of a microphone and speak the truth:
the public sucks, screw hope!

Oh, I forgot, someone did. George Carlin.

In the words of Keith Olbermann; "good night and good luck"

Posted by: Joelhassfam4 | January 15, 2008 4:57 PM | Report abuse

First of all the title to this article for the left leaning rag is wrong. The last one was in 1976, when the man, myth, legend himself (for those idiots out there that is Ronald Reagan) was screwed over and the nomination went to Gerald Ford. And the GOP RULES THE REAGAN ERA WILL NEVER END.

Posted by: matthewcheadle | January 15, 2008 4:57 PM | Report abuse

From a political newbie:

How would a brokered convention actually work, and in what circumstances would it occur? The thing I don't understand is where the cracks are. Even if there's a several-way split between the candidates for a majority of the delegates, wouldn't one of them wind up with more than any other, just mathematically? Or does the party require at least a 50% majority of delegates at the convention?

C'mon, help a brother out.

Posted by: plummetforfun | January 15, 2008 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Who cares about these Repukes anyway?

They will LOSE in November.

Voters are going to blame them for everything they have screwed up in the past 7 years.

Torture, treason, lying to start wars, illegal wiretaps, and now a recession.

Repukes, get ready to lose. Big. Ha ha.

Posted by: TomIII | January 15, 2008 4:25 PM | Report abuse

B2O2 - you just named the only GOP'er who can lead the country. It would be interesting -- 3 ballots and nobody has over 40%. Then Newt gives a "Cross of Gold" speech and wins the nomination.

Posted by: joecct77 | January 15, 2008 4:21 PM | Report abuse

In addition to the economy, Michigan voters should be very, very, wary, of illegal immigration. Illegal immigrants will take any job that is offered at $8 an hour, and maybe I am wrong, but i doubt that there probably isn't anyone, other than a teenager, in Michigan, who would work for that amount of money. So if Michiganders don't want to fight a war, with illegal imigrants still flooding into the United States, they had best not vote for Hillary "La Senora Amnistia" Clinton, Barack "El Senor Amnistia" Obama, Juan "Varone de Amnistia" McCain. That leaves very little choice but Romney, or Bloomberg, if he enters the race.

Posted by: buzzm1 | January 15, 2008 4:20 PM | Report abuse

The biggest news at the Republican Convention will be that almost all delegates and the media will be passing by the Larry Craig Memorial Restroom in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport on their way to the convention. Can anyone imagine that not getting siginificant media coverage during the convention? The convention is also scheduled unusually late so there will not be time to recover from the revived controversy and late-night jokes before the vote in November.

Posted by: bdmail | January 15, 2008 4:15 PM | Report abuse

i still can comprehend how can Americans be supporting such lame candidates that haven't presented REAL solutions. Of course they all say they are going to do this and that...that they are going to lower taxes and whatnot...but none of them, besides Dr. Paul, has given true solutions to some of these issues. This will never change as long as the same pathetic candidates keep rising as front runners for WE THE PEOPLE...we could do better.

Posted by: tribalscream | January 15, 2008 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Candidates drop out 'cause they run out of money
they decide to 'save' their political future in the party.

Huck & McCain have already proven they can run on a low budget and Mitt can dig into his pockets
Huck's on a mission from God,
McCain this one last chance in his decade long pursuit to become POTUS
& Mitt is running for his father, with no real long-term party designs.

See you at the convention and prepare for a lot of ballots.

Posted by: bdunbar | January 15, 2008 4:02 PM | Report abuse

According to recent polls of the state's Republican primary voters, Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has a narrow lead over Arizona Sen. John McCain.
While Romney did win the much-overlooked Wyoming caucuses on January 5, some political analysts have said Michigan is a must-win for Romney, whose father was governor of the state in the 1960s.

Can Mitt Romney go on without Michigan?


Posted by: jeffboste | January 15, 2008 3:48 PM | Report abuse

"We are at the end of the Reagan era. We're at a point in time where we're about to start redefining ... the nature of the Republican Party in response to what the country needs."

Well, it's refreshing that Mr. Gingrich finally acknowledges that the GOP has no clue what the American people are asking for. Meantime, the Democratic candidates are all pretty much in synch with it: sane (and restrained) use of our military, address climate change, and for heaven's sake provide basic health care for all the country's citizens (like every other developed nation of the world has for decades).

Posted by: B2O2 | January 15, 2008 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, what is Joshua smoking and where can we get some? I'll take a stab and guess who he means. It's a puzzle, someone who has not been successful yet and yet claims God speaks to him. So it's not Huckabee or McCain cause they already won one, not Mitt (he's still got a fighting chance), and not Guiliani (someone else speaks to him). He mentions a stillness, like a hibernation, a long sleep, that makes me think of Thompson dozing through the debates. That's not it though ... Ron Paul's not very religious ... Ok, I got it. He's talking about Alan Keyes. He's gotta be, all the pieces fit.

Solving that gem, on to the article. I do not see a clear winner in the GOP, and a brokered convention would be the result. There's too many different factions, and it doesn't seem like any one candidate has all the different elements they are looking for. The only candidate I think could squeeze out a win without having to broker a convention may be John McCain.

My advice to the other candidates, pick a VP early. I don't know if anyone's done that before. It'll score up some press and you can pick someone that has what you're lacking.

Posted by: grimmix | January 15, 2008 3:36 PM | Report abuse

How about the Dem side? How about Gore for president!

Posted by: j2yueh | January 15, 2008 3:29 PM | Report abuse

'Brokered' and 'convention' are not synomous terms. The accurate phraseology is 'contested convention'. If one has a contested convention, then there is a remote chance that it could be 'brokered'. Get it right.

Posted by: forces | January 15, 2008 3:29 PM | Report abuse

John McCain is the best chance the Republicans have to win in November. There are many Democrats like myself who are looking for character and leadership over ideology after the total mismanagement of the Bush years. How many of you out there think McCain would have chosen the former head of the Arabian Horse Association as the head of FEMA. How many of you out there think McCain would have let Rumsfeld and Cheney start their own war in Iraq.

There are a lot of Dems whose preference is Obama > McCain > Rest of Dem Field.

Posted by: b1gdon | January 15, 2008 3:25 PM | Report abuse

McCain could win, but it would be a disaster for our country. We need forward-looking leadership. McCain is way past his prime in terms of ideas and solutions. And although no one can take his "war hero" credentials away, McCain's entire campaign this time around rests on one credential, his egomaniac desire to be president (after John got the snot beat out of him in 2000 by a war-time desertor who had never done anything successful in his entire life).

Posted by: jjedif | January 15, 2008 3:11 PM | Report abuse

A brokered Republican convention would be perfectly in keeping with the corruption which pervades the party in the era of GWBush. Secret deals in smoke-filled private rooms are just the ticket. Let them choose McCain or Romney in just such a way out of public view. Neither are electable under any circumstances. The Republican party is headed for sure and certain defeat, and once that has happened we can get on with the work of rebuilding America and repairing it's badly damaged reputation in the world.

Posted by: dsrobins | January 15, 2008 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Joshua, puff-puff-give

Posted by: kreuz_missile | January 15, 2008 3:03 PM | Report abuse

With a brokered convention the Republicans could nominate Michael Jackson. He's the perfect candidate for them. Nobody likes him, nobody trusts him, there is not much to him beyond shuck and jive and his sexual preferences are questionable. The guy can out "family value" Rudy Giuliani.

Posted by: MorganaLeFay | January 15, 2008 2:59 PM | Report abuse

You say, you can't see McCain as President.

Well it will not be long now before America puts their only choice in the Oval Office "McCain". I am shore that you will have no trouble seeing McCain as President real SOON !

Posted by: nicklan | January 15, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Friday, January 4, 2008

there will be quietness for a time, and then a storm will arise, and they will say did he just steal the primaries?

The Spirit of God says today to pray for your President, that his final moments in the White House will be one of his greatest seasons.

For God said there will be quietness for a time, and then a storm will arise, and they will say did he just steal the primaries? The man that God has chosen will awaken in the late hours, just as I have told you. For many are watching so earnestly at the states and God said the stillness will come and them the man will arise in the late hours and arise victorious.

I am about to give you a winter where you will say, we are experiencing a winter that is so unusual, that we have never seen the weather shift the way it is.

Posted by: JoshuaUdell | January 15, 2008 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Exactly, who knows whom will win- yet it is a very interesting contest. On the internet at least, millions are busy searching and there Ron Paul leads the pack. See Google Trends Report:

Yet, that is no indication that is who the voters will choose. However if you look deeper at the charts in that link, you can see that going state-by-state shows some interesting data, if nothing else.

Very sorry, but I can not see John McCain winning against any of the Democrats, however bickering they are at the moment.

Posted by: davidmwe | January 15, 2008 2:03 PM | Report abuse

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