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Could the GOP nomination battle end up in a brokered convention? That's the hot question on pundits' minds these days. The correct answer is that there's a chance a brokered convention could occur, but it is exceedingly slim.
To understand why, we need a quick reminder on the Republican nomination system as it exists for 2012. Basically, the Republican National Committee looked enviously at the lengthy Democratic primary from 2008 -- which strengthened the Democrats by forcing candidates to conduct registration drives and set up infrastructure in all 50 states -- and decided that a longer primary system would benefit the GOP as well.
So, it decided to require primaries and caucuses held prior to April 1 to allocate delegates through a proportional representation system. To greatly oversimplify, a candidate who receives at least 25 percent of the vote in any given state will receive that same percentage of the delegates (some states have a 20 percent viability threshold, and some states will have “mini-races” in each congressional district). A total of 1,277 delegates will be awarded prior to April 1, so it is nearly impossible for a candidate to rack up the 1,145 delegates needed to win the nomination outright by the end of March.
The RNC also wanted to avoid a situation such as what occurred in 1976, when neither Gerald Ford nor Ronald Reagan had claimed a majority of the delegates by the time of the Republican National Convention, and the uncertainty surrounding the nomination process allowed Jimmy Carter to claim a double-digit lead in the polls. Therefore, after April 1, states are free to allocate their delegates as they choose. Most of them will do so via some variant of a winner-take-all system, although some (Rhode Island, Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon, New Mexico and South Dakota) still use a proportional system.