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Monday, March 14, 2016

Republicans' New Target: The 'Pre-Convention'

The Republican delegate tangle has people talking excitedly about a contested national convention this summer. Not so fast. Even if no candidate wins the necessary 1,237 delegates by the end of primaries and caucuses on June 7, the six weeks that follow provide another opportunity to settle the matter before the party gathers in Cleveland on July 18. I’ll call this period the “pre-convention.”

Republicans can't have an undecided convention without first passing through a contested pre-convention period. With all the delegates chosen but no candidate having a secure majority, the action will shift from the week-to-week slog from one state primary to the next in search of voters to a collective decision to be made by the delegates: 2,472 party actors, most of them obscure but a handful well known, most of them loyal to the candidate they are supporting but many of them with other interests and preferences.

If no one has the nomination locked up in June, everyone involved -- candidates, delegates and other party actors -- will feel intense pressure to get this done before the convention. The purpose of national conventions today is advertising for the party and its candidate, and that opportunity would be forfeited if the convention was convened without a nominee. The worst case would be day after day of deadlock under the full gaze of the national media with controversies heating up and plenty of chances for those 2,472 delegates (and the hundreds of other Republicans who will be in attendance) to make the party and whomever they eventually settle on look bad.

So the campaigns will scramble to win the allegiance of delegates, both those who are not tethered to a particular candidate and those who are, since bound delegates might become available if the convention decides to let them vote however they want.

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