For the first time in nearly half a century, members of the Republican Party may go into their national convention unsure of their presidential nominee.
In most past elections, one of the front-running candidates has performed well enough in the primaries prior to and on Super Tuesday to acquire the 1,191 delegates needed to win the nomination.
If none of the candidates have earned the nomination by the convention, which is scheduled for the beginning of September, the Republican Party may be hosting what is known as a "brokered convention," at which "horse-trading," or the bargaining of delegates, between the leading candidates may occur.
Close competition between leading candidates such as Mitt Romney, John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani has led to speculation that none of the front-runners will have gathered enough delegates after the bulk of the state primaries that will take place on Feb. 5, this year's Super Tuesday.
"This would be new territory for the modern age," said Henry Brady, a professor of political science and public policy at the University of California at Berkeley.
The Republican National Convention has arguably been a formality since the modernization of the primary system, which took place after the chaotic 1968 Democratic National Convention, Brady said.
If the convention is brokered, delegates will have to take into account their own political leanings and bargain with the other participants to decide who to nominate.
"It will become important for the candidates to start making deals with each other about whose delegates are going to support who if it goes beyond Feb. 5," Brady said.
As an example, Brady said, "If Mike Huckabee comes in towards the bottom of the list, then the question is where will his delegates go."
Many Republicans are worried that the possibility of a brokered election indicates the failure of the primary system, which is often criticized for beginning too early and dragging on too long, said Tim Morgan, treasurer for the Republican National Committee.
Morgan, who recently discussed the possibility of a brokered convention at the winter meeting of the Rules Committee of the Republican National Committee in Washington, D.C., hesitated to label the primary system "broken" and said that some of the complaints that people have are irreconcilable.
"(The system) is a work in progress," Morgan said. "(At this point,) there's just no clear front-runner."
Robert Huckfeldt, a professor of political science at the University of California at Davis, echoed Morgan in defense of the system.
"Everyone equates that with a breakdown in the system," Huckfeldt said. "I'm not sure it's something to worry about."
Brady also cautioned against prematurely predicting a brokered election and discounting the voters in states such as Texas or Ohio that are holding primaries after Feb. 5.
"These are states with some delegates that could be enough to get somebody over the top," Brady said.
The Republican Party could be at a disadvantage in the general election if the race drags on past Feb. 5.
Campaigning and advertising often begin in the summer, Brady said. Without a clear nominee, the Republican Party would not be able to get started until after the convention in September.
"Whereas the Democrats will be able to really focus on the candidate, the Republicans will look like they are in disarray if they don't have a candidate," Brady said. "It would give the Democrats a big leg up."
Regardless of the ultimate outcome, the concern over a brokered convention could indicate that the system, which has been stable for some time, is evolving, Huckfeldt said.
"Wemay be seeing the Republican Party in a time of transition," Huckfeldt said. "It'll be interesting to see how it plays out."
© 2008 Daily Bruin via U-WIRE