John Baer: Spoiler alert: Rick could be one

Don't be shocked if Rick Santorum's run for the GOP nomination leads to a brokered convention, a big help to President Obama.
Don't be shocked if Rick Santorum's run for the GOP nomination leads to a brokered convention, a big help to President Obama. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: March 05, 2012

ASSUMING, as I do, that Rick Santorum won't be the Republican nominee, here's a question: Could Rick do for the GOP in 2012 what Ralph Nader did for Democrats back in 2000?

Hold on, I'm not saying the two are alike or that the elections are similar. I'm asking if Santorum is a spoiler - in the manner of Nader.

You'll may recall that Nader got nearly 97,500 votes in Florida, the state that decided the '00 race. Al Gore lost Florida by about 540 votes. Could be said that Nader helped Republicans.

If Rick's run leads to a brokered convention in (ta-da!) Florida this summer, could be said that he helps Democrats.

Here's why.

The only brokered Republican conventions (both held in Philadelphia) since the advent of primaries led to GOP losses.

In 1940, Wendell Wilkie won a sixth-ballot nomination; went on to lose to FDR.

In 1948, Thomas Dewey won on the third ballot; lost, famously, to Harry Truman.

Even when a field-leading Republican arrived at a convention without enough delegates for nomination and the party avoided a brokered battle, the candidate lost: Gerald Ford, '76, beaten by Jimmy Carter.

And, yeah, every election is different, lots of Republicans insist that anybody they pick beats President Obama and lots more insist that there will be no brokered convention.

It's just that so far there's no end in sight.

For if, as expected, tomorrow's Super Tuesday voters in 10 states spread love (and delegates) among four contenders, the race remains far from decided.

Evidence suggests that'll happen, even if Mitt Romney rallies to win, for example, Ohio.

In tomorrow's states with the most delegates - Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia - there are three front-runners, according to latest in-state polling.

Newt Gingrich leads Romney in Georgia, 42-22; Santorum leads Romney in Ohio, 34-32 percent; Santorum leads Romney in Tennessee, 34-30; and Romney leads Ron Paul in Virginia, 56-21 (Newt and Rick didn't make the ballot there).

And no Super Tuesday state is a winner-take-all. Delegates are shared among candidates no matter who wins the popular vote, although in some states all delegates go to anyone getting more than 50 percent of that vote.

In the 11 primary/caucus contests so far, only once did anyone win with 50 percent-plus: Romney, Nevada, Feb. 4, 50.1 percent.

It is precisely this new proportional assignment of delegates that keeps the contest going after tomorrow and could lead to a brokered convention.

Proportionality so far, for example, has Santorum second in delegates despite the fact that he's third, behind Mitt and Newt, in total votes.

"I hate it," says Georgia GOP boss Sue Everhart.

In her state, she tells me, Newt wins tomorrow but because "everyone gets something" the party suffers: "It'll make for a longer period of time to get a nominee which cuts into time to undo damage and raise money."

When I ask Pennsylvania Republican chairman Rob Gleason if he likes proportional primaries, he says, "No. Absolutely not. I'd rather winner-take-all."

Gleason says a brokered convention is "possible" but, like Everhart and most party leaders, doubts it'll happen. GOP National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer says it's as likely as a "space-alien attack."

The race, so far, seems like that: Newt's lunar colony; Mitt's Michigan trees at "the right height"; JFK making Rick want to puke; and Ron Paul being Ron Paul.

GOP candidates had 20 debates, the same number Democrats had in their long, hard-fought '08 run. After tomorrow, there remain 30-plus primary/caucus events, ending June 26 in Utah.

So although it still feels like Mitt's the one, there's still a chance for a spoiler.


For recent columns, go to

philly.com/JohnBaer. Read his blog at philly.com/BaerGrowls.

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