Candidates likely to broker a deal

May 16th, 1995

Seven presidential hopefuls lined up in Denver on Saturday night to win the hearts and minds of Colorado's GOP activists. Here we are, eight months before the first primary in New Hampshire (or Louisiana or Delaware, depending on how things work out) and nearly all the GOP candidates have fully developed messages and several (Bob Dole, Phil Gramm and Lamar Alexander) already have well-organized and well-financed campaigns. Reason: Most seasoned political observers believe the GOP nominee will be known before April. 

But there is another point of view that projects a brokered convention. There are two kinds of brokered conventions: what we might call the "floor" broker, where a deal is cut after the convention's first ballot fails to produce a majority for one candidate (which is less likely to happen); and the "summer" broker, which happens when no candidate comes out of the primaries with a clear majority, and candidates spend the June to August months (as Ronald Reagan did in 1976) trying to patch together a winning coalition. 

This is not an off-the-wall scenario. According to GOP consultant Paul Wilson, front-runner Dole can win nearly all the Midwest and Northeast, including the states along the 100th Meridian -- from North Dakota to Oklahoma -- and still come up short. 

If you assume that Gramm or Alexander will take most of the Rocky Mountain states and most of the South, and that California governor Pete Wilson will take California's 163 delegates plus those from Washington and Oregon, then the nomination would still be up for grabs after the primaries are settled. 

There are two other arguments favoring the summer broker. First, most GOP primaries are winner-take-all by congressional district, with the statewide winner taking all the at-large votes. But some states allocate delegates in proportion to how votes split among the candidates. Gramm, Wilson and Alexander are strongest in the winner-take-all states, while Dole is strongest (and thus more vulnerable) in the proportional allocation states. 

Second, because of the fast-track primary process, there will be no incentive for the favorite son or dark horse, such as Indiana's Dick Lugar or Maryland's Alan Keyes, to drop out if things don't go their way. They will simply stick it out, win their home state and perhaps pick up a few more votes in the proportional allocation states. Result: Favorite sons and dark horses who control delegates will be in a strong bargaining position in the run-up to the August convention. 

The brokered convention could lead to some surprises. First, those on the sidelines (such as Gen. Colin Powell) will have a harder time influencing events in an environment where the currency of the realm is control over delegates, not voter appeal. Second, the strongest candidate in a summer broker could very well be the leader who distinguished himself most during the campaign. 

That may not augur well for front-runners Dole and Gramm, where, as the quip goes, oneÕs too old and theyÕre both too mean. On the other hand, a summer broker could put Alexander and Wilson in a strong position -- Alexander to win the whole thing in a "Stop Dole" movement or Wilson to put Dole or Gramm over the top in exchange for the second slot on the ticket. 

While Democrats play a rerun in Chicago in '96. The GOP may produce some fresh material in San Diego. 

Number: 
239

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