Even if a dark horse couldn’t win enough delegates to win the nomination, he could win enough to prevent his competitors from winning. “I think that a contested convention is a distinct possibility,” admits Bopp. “I think the RNC is carefully thinking about that prospect and what needs to be done by the RNC to make sure that the convention is successful.”
Smith adds that if the also-rans refuse to release their delegates or they even release them to the late candidate, they could force a brokered convention.
The last time the RNC met without knowing in advance its nominee was in 1976, notes Craig Shirley, author of Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America
. Neither Pres. Gerald Ford nor challenger Ronald Reagan had won enough delegates to clinch the nomination, so they fought over the remaining 150 unpledged delegates. (Ford ultimately prevailed.)
The RNC no longer allows unpledged delegates, Shirley says, but delegates aren’t required to vote for their designated candidate beyond the first ballot. If no candidate wins the nomination on the first ballot, the convention would no longer be constrained by the primary results; it could nominate whomever it wanted.
A brokered convention would be a political junkie’s — never mind a political reporter’s — dream. But for voters unenthused with Gingrich and Romney, dreams are all they have.
— Brian Bolduc is an editorial associate for National Review.