With the Republican presidential field as fractured as ever, talk of a brokered GOP national convention is increasing in Republican circles. And a big reason is that Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is positioned to, at minimum, earn a large enough bloc of delegates in next year's caucuses and primaries to be a real force.
A senior GOP strategist who is neutral in the current race says it's very possible that no candidate will have a majority of delegates on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention in Tampa next summer. "A brokered convention is a real possibility," he says.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who has a solid base, a large campaign treasury, and a good organization, is favored by establishment Republicans to win the nomination, even though his support hasn't risen above the 25-to-30 percent range. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is considered likely to fade even more than he has in the past two weeks, but not drop out. Other candidates, including Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, are expected to gain some delegates and use them to influence the policies set at the convention.
The biggest wild card, however, could be Ron Paul, a libertarian who has surged to the lead in Iowa, which holds its nominating caucuses January 3.
Paul isn't likely to win the nomination. But GOP veterans predict that he will go all the way to the convention with a substantial bloc of delegates—perhaps 15 or 20 percent. That means he could have a chance to steer fellow Republicans toward his views in deliberations on the party platform, and he would be likely speak to a prime-time audience, an opportunity which was denied to him when he ran for president in 2008.
The alternative could be that Paul runs as an independent or third-party candidate, as he has done before. In that case, he could siphon off enough conservative votes to throw the election to President Obama, an outcome that leaders of the GOP establishment are very eager to avoid.
"There's a ceiling for Ron Paul but there's no more committed following than his," the senior GOP strategist said.
The last time there was the potential for a brokered GOP convention was in 1976 when incumbent Gerald Ford was locked in a close race for the GOP nomination with former Gov. Ronald Reagan of California. Ford managed to secure the handful of votes he needed and he won on the first ballot despite Reagan's fight up to the last minute. But it was a messy finale, and the lingering divisions hurt Ford in the general election, which he lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter.