Based on current delegate standings, Republican presidential candidates could be heading towards a contested convention later this year.
The candidates are racing to win a total of 1,237 delegates during the primary season. As of Wednesday night, Donald Trump is in the lead with 673 delegates, followed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz with 411 and Ohio Gov. John Kasich with 143 delegates.
Political experts say it is unlikely Trump will win enough delegates to lock up the Republican nomination before the party’s convention in Cleveland in July.
“When you get to the convention, first the delegates will vote and then there'll be no one who has a majority,” explained UMKC political science associate professor Beth Vonnahme. “Then, you'll have a second ballot situation."
During a second ballot at a convention, “unbound delegates” would be free to vote for anyone, regardless of delegate count. Rules for “unbound delegates” vary by state, but they could start impacting the race during the second round of voting.
Due to the success and divisiveness of Donald Trump, Vonnahme said Republicans may find themselves in a tough spot.
“It does suggest that the Republican Party is at least divided," she explained. “The concern from the Trump campaign is that the rest of the candidates will tell their delegates to vote for a particular person and that person will become the nominee."
The last time Republicans had a contested convention was in 1976, when the event was held at Kemper Arena in Kansas City.
Former Kansas City Mayor Charles Wheeler helped oversee the event. He said much like this year’s race, voters were tired of Washington politics, especially after the Watergate scandal.
“Politically speaking, people were talking about the recent resignation of President [Richard] Nixon and what a spot that left President [Gerald] Ford in,” said Wheeler. “We were sort of trying to pick up the pieces at that time."
President Gerald Ford was neck-and-neck with Ronald Reagan heading into the 1976 convention. Wheeler remembers large crowds following Reagan around the city.
“The police had to put some people who wanted to create some disturbances under control,” he said.
Wheeler said the nominee race between only two candidates in 1976, as opposed to over a dozen candidates in the 2016 race, meant it was easier to hold them accountable.
“We had only a few candidates and they got plenty of time to tell us exactly what they were going to do,” he explained.
Ford won the Republican nomination in 1976 after delegates voted on their first ballot. He went on to lose the presidential election later that year to Jimmy Carter.
Wheeler said a contested convention in 2016 could be very different for Republicans.
“Republicans were well-behaved in ’76,” he said. “This group that will convene in Cleveland may not be well-behaved."
Tom Dempsey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.