The early presidential caucus and primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina will be the center of the Republican Party’s world next month, but Indiana’s May 8 primary could prove more important.
Republican Party rule changes, penalties for early primary states, and candidates with enough money and supporters to remain in the race may all combine to give Indiana Republicans a taste of the campaign fun Democrats enjoyed in 2008.
Gov. Mitch Daniels is among the Hoosier Republicans rooting for a drawn-out nominating process.
"One can conjure a scenario … that might lead to a situation that’s still in play when May gets here, and that’d be terrific," Daniels said. "I thought it was so great when it mattered on the Democratic side last time."
Republicans changed their rules for awarding convention delegates last year hoping to capture the excitement Democrats had as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton battled for months to win the nomination in 2008.
As a result, most early primary states in 2012 will award convention delegates proportionately, based on a candidate’s share of the state’s primary vote, instead of winner-take-all.
In addition, five states that moved their primaries to before March 1 were penalized by the GOP and lost half their delegates.
That means the minimum 1,142 delegates needed for nomination won’t be selected until March 24 and no candidate is likely to win every one of them, putting later primary states with a lot of delegates, such as Indiana’s 46, in play.
Jesse Benton, campaign manager for Ron Paul, said the Texas congressman will strategically compete for delegates throughout the primary process.
"Our campaign has a comprehensive plan to win the delegates needed to either secure the nomination or enter into a brokered convention in Tampa," Benton told POLITICO.
The last time a Republican convention opened without the front-runner in control of enough delegates to win the nomination was 1976 when Ronald Reagan tried to wrest the GOP nomination from President Gerald Ford. Ford lost in the general election that year to Jimmy Carter.
Daniels, who briefly considered running for president earlier this year, believes a brokered convention might not be all bad, even though intra-party fights tend to turn off undecided general election voters.
"At a time when the country is facing just terribly consequential issues, if it led to a good healthy debate about not merely personalities but about what kind of program of change to bring to America, I could convince myself it’s not the worst outcome," Daniels said.
The term-limited governor said he won’t be throwing his hat in the ring at a brokered convention, but he’d enjoy watching it.
"I’ve always said the greatest spectator sport, forget the Super Bowl, if either party ever had a truly deliberative convention in the mini-camera world, it would be spectacular," Daniels said.
Not all Republicans believe the nomination will be up in the air when their convention begins Aug. 27.
Schererville Republican Dan Dumezich, who is leading Mitt Romney’s Indiana campaign, is confident the former Massachusetts governor will have the nomination locked up.
"I think we’re going to have an answer a lot sooner than most people think," Dumezich said. "I’m hoping we have one by January 31."