MONROE, LA – Newt Gingrich faces a significant hurdle in his strategy of winning the GOP presidential nomination at the party’s August convention, lengthening the already-long odds of him becoming the Republican nominee.
The former House speaker is already struggling to stay afloat financially; he finished behind Texas Rep. Ron Paul in last night’s Illinois primary, even though Paul barely campaigned in the state.
Nonetheless, Gingrich has vowed to press his candidacy all the way through the Republican National Convention this August in Tampa, Fla. His strategy hinges on the assumption that Romney will fail to win the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination, prompting a contested convention in which Gingrich could emerge as conservatives’ consensus choice.
But an RNC rule stipulating that candidates seeking the nomination must have won a plurality of votes in at least five states could complicate Gingrich’s already far-fetched strategy. RNC rule No. 40 states:
Nominations(b) Each candidate for nomination for President of the United States and Vice President of the United States shall demonstrate the support of a plurality of the delegates from each of five (5) or more states, severally, prior to the presentation of the name of that candidate for nomination.
RNC Chairman Reince Preibus issued a stern warning to the candidates to that end this morning on the Daily Rundown.
“It's an important rule,” he said. “So when these candidates are adding up their delegates or when people out there have a particular issue that they would like to move at the convention, they had better make sure they at least have a plurality of five states to make these things happen.”
Gingrich, of course, has only won two primaries – first, South Carolina, and second, Georgia, the state he had represented in Congress. (Paul finds himself in a similar situation, having won delegates, but no caucuses or primaries.)
“Obviously we need to win some more states,” said a source close to the Gingrich campaign, acknowledging that they need to win at least three more states before the August convention. “I don’t think he [Gingrich] would be doing this if he didn’t think there was a road to winning.”
There is a caveat that could allow Gingrich to slip through. RNC press secretary Kirsten Kukowski told NBC News that a candidate may still be nominated at the convention if they are able to garner a plurality of five states on the floor. The only real road toward accomplishing that would involve capturing unbound delegates, who will be few and far between come August.
While this scenario remains possible, the likelihood of it actually happening seems slim.
If no GOP candidate reaches the 1,144 delegates needed to seal the nomination by the Tampa convention, it would open the possibility that all four remaining candidates would participate in a floor fight.
“The purpose of the primary season is to vet your candidate. The purpose of the convention is to pick your candidate,” the Gingrich source says. “The longer we stay in this race, the longer people are going to contrast and compare and then you get to the convention and then, we will have this big debate on who our nominee needs to be.”
But if Gingrich cannot win five states – or even if he does win just five – he would still face a perception problem come convention time. With 56 states and territories in play, it would be difficult for the winner of just a handful of those contests to make the case that he deserves the nomination.
“To change history, the primaries, in your favor is exceedingly difficult and almost unrealistic,” said Doug Heye, the former RNC communications director turned political consultant. “For a lot of folks, the perception that Gingrich cannot win is already there and you’ve seen it state after state as Gingrich has been left out of the conversation.”
RNC rule No. 40, Heye noted, basically codifies the notion that Gingrich no longer faces a viable path to the nomination.
“I fully expect that Speaker Gingrich will be in Tampa this summer but not as a viable candidate for President of the United States,” he said.