Nearly 200 broadcast reports have discussed the possibility of an open GOP convention this cycle
Just when Mitt Romney seems on the verge of becoming the 'inevitable' GOP nominee - a label bestowed on him by both his campaign as well as several talking heads - Rick Santorum sporadically wins enough contests to put a damper on the quick and easy resolution to a race many in the Republican establishment would like to see come to an end.
With every mini-Santorum run, the media frame turns on a dime from Romney's inevitability to talk of a brokered convention in Tampa this summer.
Media speculation of an open convention has not only escalated in recent weeks, it has soared when compared to four years ago, when there was talk of such a convention on both sides of the ticket - first with the Republicans and then even more intensely during the deadlocked race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
A Smart Politics review of broadcast media coverage of the Republican presidential nomination battle through the week after Super Tuesday finds that media reports of a 'brokered' or 'open' convention in 2012 are up 108 percent from similar coverage of the 2008 Democratic and Republican contests.
Smart Politics tracked the number of media reports discussing a brokered or open convention through Lexis/Nexis transcripts of seven major media outlets - ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, NPR, and NBC for both the 2008 and 2012 cycles.
From January 1, 2007 through the 37 contests held one week after Super Tuesday in 2008 (February 12th), there were 93 mentions of a possible brokered Democratic or Republican convention with a tight race between Obama and Clinton on the one side and, for a while, John McCain and Mitt Romney on the other.
From January 1, 2011 through the 31 contests that have been held through one week after Super Tuesday during the current cycle (March 13th), there have already been 191 reports mentioning an open Republican convention, or an increase of 108 percent from the same point during the political cycle four years prior.
CNN has been the biggest driver of the brokered convention hypothesis, discussing that possibility in 90 reports thus far this cycle, followed by 35 reports on FOX, 32 on MSNBC, 10 each on ABC and CBS, eight on NBC, and six on NPR.
The idea of a possible open GOP convention was actually first floated on FOX, way back in June of last year on Neal Cavuto's Your World program.
Cavuto had the following exchange with former 2008 candidate Mike Huckabee:
CAVUTO: You can never unequivocally rule stuff out. But you mentioned the idea of a brokered convention where they are divided and you come in on your white horse and rescue. The other guys would want to kill you in that event.
CAVUTO: But how likely is even that scenario?
HUCKABEE: Twenty million to one. It`s not going to happen. Hasn't happened -- I can't remember in my lifetime.
While the odds seem greater than 20,000,000 to one now, the concept of a brokered convention only occasionally popped up in the broadcast media during the subsequent months leading into the heart of the debate season, with only three total broadcast mentions on CNN (twice) and NPR (once) through November 2011.
By December, after several shifts on the GOP leader board, 13 media reports speculated on the brokered convention scenario, rising to 22 in January, 104 in February, and 48 through the first 13 days of March.
The media surge in reports on a possible open convention is now more than double the count at this point in the election cycle four years ago.
Although the Democratic race in 2008 ultimately became a two-candidate race, there was talk throughout the cycle of a possible open convention - first, due to early expectations that John Edwards would continue to win delegates after Iowa and also due to the possibility that superdelegates might withhold (or change) their endorsements until the convention.
Even Republicans were getting into the act as McCain and Romney battled at the top of the polls leading into Iowa:
"You can have, getting into late spring, still an undeclared nominee. And we could have a brokered convention. Wouldn't that be fun?" - GOP Party Chairman Michael Steele (FOX, January 3, 2008)
Media discussion of a brokered convention in the 2012 cycle is also 40 percent higher compared to coverage through March 13, 2008 (after 45 contests had been held) and 12 percent higher compared coverage all the way through to June 7, 2008 - the day Clinton formally endorsed Obama, a few days after the last Democratic primary contest.
Although the issue of a brokered convention in the 2012 cycle has been raised in many media reports in recent weeks, it has frequently been covered as either an unlikely or unwanted scenario by many prominent Republicans, conservatives, and some reporters:
"Where we are is one of two people is going to get the Republican nominee. It's possible, you know, three percent possibility of brokered convention in that situation. That is either Romney almost or Rick Santorum." - Bill Kristol (Fox News, March 7, 2012)
"I personally don't see a brokered convention at all. I think that this is so far off. We're not anywhere near where we were even in nominating Bush 41 or Bush 43. They weren't even the nominees until the end of April." - Reince Priebus, Republican Party Chairman (CNN, March 7, 2012)
"Look, here's the real deal. I don't think that's going to happen. Both parties have got enough of the system together where they don't want that to happen, particularly Republicans, for this to be a floor fight, an open convention in Tampa would just be a disaster." - Bryan Monroe, CNN.com Politics Editor (CNN, March 7, 2012)
"You and I have been around politics for a long time. Every time, when there's been contested races, we've heard, quote, brokered convention. It's just not going to happen, John." - John McCain (CNN, March 13, 2012)
"There can't be a brokered convention, because there are no brokers. And there can't be. There just aren't any more. The product (ph) changed a lot. And there can't be a contested convention, because Mitt Romney, unless something careless happens, is going to get the delegates that he needs." - Mary Matalin (CNN, March 7, 2012)
"I'll believe a brokered convention when I see one. I've covered this stuff a long time, it's never happened yet. But if it does happen, it's not going to be because anybody at CPAC or Sarah Palin says they want it want to happen." - John Harwood (NBC, February 11, 2012)
"You're not going to have a brokered convention here because by the time -- you still have a lot of states to go. And Romney is going to -- one or two of these people are going to drop out." - Bob Beckel (FOX, February 13, 2012)
Prominent Republicans like Sarah Palin have openly speculated about an open convention, with Palin practically cheering for one last month:
"I don't think that it would be a negative for the party, a brokered convention. People who start screaming that a brokered convention is the worst thing that could happen to the GOP, they have an agenda. They have their own personal or political reasons, their own candidate who they would like to see protected away from a brokered convention. So anybody who starts saying, can't allow that to happen, that's part of competition. That's part of the process, and it may happen."
And while most reporters and news program hosts have treated the prospects of an open convention in a neutral manner, some are outwardly cheering for it to happen:
"We really want to see this. We really want to see that open convention." - Lawrence O'Donnell (MSNBC, March 12, 2012)
"The words "brokered convention" strike joy in the hearts of the Beltway media pundits of which I guess I`m one." - Ezra Klein (MSNBC, February 13, 2012)
"Look, by the way, I would like to see an -- Kellyanne, you know I`d love to see an open convention. You know I`d like to be sitting in the balcony and watching this thing." - Chris Matthews (MSNBC, March 13, 2012)
To be fair to Chris Matthews, he also openly backed an open convention in 2008:
"Hey - I'm dreaming of it... That`s better than a white Christmas. That's a brokered convention." - Chris Matthews (MSNBC, December 28, 2007)
Newt Gingrich, who also had a warm reaction to an open convention back in 2008, agreed that the media would have a field day should such a scenario come to fruition in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer last month:
"You could have -- at the rate we're going, you could have the first open convention since 1940, which would give you something to cover that you would just love." - Newt Gingrich (CNN, February 7, 2012)
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