Chances are that no clear front-runner will emerge for the GOP presidential nomination until March of next year — at the earliest — thanks to new primary rules instituted by the Republican National Committee, according to Karl Rove, writing in The Wall Street Journal.
The veteran Republican strategist wrote that, at about this time in previous presidential election years, either a clear front-runner or at least a candidate with a narrow lead had emerged. For instance, George W. Bush was ahead of Elizabeth Dole by 35 points in a March 1999 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll well in advance of the November 2000 elections.
Looking at primary battles dating back to 1964, Rove reports that the nomination was most often won by the front-runner. Candidates who had some kind of lead by now had an advantage to become the Republican standard-bearer.
"Structural changes imposed by the Republican National Committee may make 2016 a different story," according to Rove.
"Only four states will have primaries in February — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. States holding primaries in the first half of March 2016 must award delegates proportionally. States in the second half of March can be winner-take-all."
Allowing for the likelihood that different candidates will "win each of the first four contests, which is historically the case" by this time next year no candidate will have locked up the nomination — though the field will have narrowed, wrote Rove.
By April 2016, one candidate with momentum, strong organization, and plenty of cash that's well-spent, could "seal the nomination."
But not necessarily.
Rove can foresee an admittedly unlikely scenario in which the race could carry on through the spring, probably between two surviving candidates. Republicans could head into their July convention in Cleveland with no candidate boasting a majority of delegates, wrote Rove.
In this "unlikely but not impossible" state of affairs, he can imagine — to the delight of "political junkies who dream of drama and disarray" — a situation in which candidates "wheel-and-deal to arrive at a majority" just like in conventions prior to 1952.
As for the current front-runner, Rove notes that there are more surveys nowadays than in past elections.
"So while Wednesday's Real Clear Politics average had [former Florida Gov.] Jeb Bush at 14.5 percent, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 13 percent and [former Arkansas Gov.] Mike Huckabee at 11.8 percent, each man has led in a national poll in the past four weeks," he wrote.
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