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Do Republicans now expect a contested convention?

With no end in sight for the often-ugly GOP fight, party leaders are reportedly gearing up for their first contested presidential convention since 1976

After watching the GOP presidential nomination fight drag on for several months, Republican leaders are now seriously preparing for a convention in August at which no candidate has the necessary 1,144 delegates to win the nomination outright, report Jeff Zeleney and Jim Rutenberg in The New York Times. To do so, "campaign and party lawyers are dusting off their party rule books" — the last open GOP convention was 36 years ago, when Ronald Reagan challenged incumbent President Gerald Ford in 1976. It's not just the GOP establishment who's eyeing this scenario: Newt Gingrich is openly campaigning for a floor fight in Tampa, and Rick Santorum is also pushing for an open convention, albeit a bit more quietly. Does the GOP actually expect the fight between Mitt Romney and Santorum to last until August? Here's what you should know:

Where does the race stand now?According to the AP's count, Romney has 515 delegates, Santorum has 253, Newt Gingrich has 131, and Ron Paul has 50. If the race continues on its present trajectory, Santorum could pick up another 500 or so delegates and Gingrich could tack on another 150, says Rich Stowell in The Washington Times. Under these "rosiest of outcomes for Gingrich and Santorum," Romney narrowly misses 1,144, and "that's a problem" for him. "But it's less of a problem than his opponents have." For Santorum to overtake Romney, he would have to win about 70 percent of the remaining delegates — a highly unlikely scenario. It's far more probable, says The New York Times' Nate Silver, that Romney will get to 1,144. If things go well, he'll remain "on pace to clinch the Republican nomination after Utah votes on June 26 or after California and several large states do on June 5."

Why has the GOP failed to find consensus?"The race has careened from state to state," with Romney winning a few here and Santorum a few there, says Ronald Brownstein at National Journal, but there's been a "strikingly stable patterns of support" for the two frontrunners. If moderates and economic conservatives keep breaking for Romney and social conservatives and evangelical Christians keep voting for Santorum, "the longest and most closely fought Republican nomination race since 1976 will grind on with the former Massachusetts governor likely strong enough to retain his lead, but too weak to eliminate his principal rival."

What happens if this does go all the way to Tampa?Some "GOP big hitters, such as Mike Huckabee, have said a brokered GOP convention would be a 'train wreck' and a 'disaster' for the party," says Jonathan Karl at ABC News, but former RNC chairman and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour says a contested convention is "not necessarily all bad." Current RNC chairman Reince Priebus tells CBS News he doesn't expect it to come to that, adding, "We're not making plans for a brokered convention." Yes, "more likely than not, GOP voters will coalesce around Romney" before Tampa, says Stowell.

Sources: ABC News, AP, CBS News, Fox News, National Journal, New York Times (2), Politico, Washington Times

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