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Candidate choice could go to wire

If You Ask Me

If a rising economic tide doesn’t lift the good ship Obama, we should be more than a little alarmed at the prospect of a Mitt Romney or — shudder — a Newt Gingrich presidency.

Liberals unhappy with Obama probably won’t be rushing to the polls, but equally unhappy moderates and independents might be hoping that the flip-flopping Romney will flip their way if nominated. It could happen, given his history of going with the position on something like abortion that does him the most good at the time. It might even convince some otherwise thoughtful people to vote for him, but is his deficiency of principles the quality we want in the next president? Maybe, when the other choice is Gingrich.

The other polls, the kind that measure public opinion, now show Romney could be in for a difficult — if not disastrous — January, with only New Hampshire looking good and defeat looming in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida. All of this, of course, is subject to the fickle base that has elevated some strange and frightening presidential hopefuls this year. Gingrich could fall as spectacularly as he has risen, leaving only Romney and the dream of a last-minute savior charging in on the cable news, rather than a white horse.

Nate Silver, who conducts The New York Times’ highly regarded Five Thirty Eight blog, points out that people who write political columns frequently predict the possibility of last-minute saviors and even brokered conventions because these things are very exciting for people who write political columns.

But the sad truth is, the selection of a nominee by a convention simply doesn’t happen anymore. Republicans haven’t seen a presidential candidate emerge from a brokered convention since Dewey in 1948, and the last Democrat was Stevenson in 1952.

There hasn’t been a winning candidate selected by a national convention since Franklin D. Roosevelt won the first of his four terms 80 years ago.

Despite that history, Silver still envisions scenarios that could lead to an actual deadlocked convention in Tampa this summer with a dark horse emerging in time to save the GOP from what at best will be terminal embarrassment.

And just who might this savior be?

Two come readily to mind: governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Mitch Daniels of Indiana, but both men have said no and meant it. Christie would have to withdraw his endorsement of Romney, an act not likely to impress even the anti-Romney crowd.

Daniels, the former head of the Office of Management and Budget, would have to break a promise he made to his family. A sensible conservative, Daniels has not endorsed anyone and has strong economic credentials and a good record as a second-term governor. But he has been married twice, though to the same woman, in a complicated saga that saw his wife divorce him, marry someone else and come back to Daniels. The family probably prefers no additional details to be revealed in a national campaign.

This would leave a few less likely possibilities: Tim Pawlenty, the moderate governor who made the grievous error of getting out of the race before he should have; Paul Ryan, the party’s authority on the economy whose Medicare reform has been getting a second look; and Jeb Bush, who enjoys the advantage of being the smarter Bush brother and the disadvantage of being a Bush brother.

Silver doesn’t make any guesses about who might emerge at a deadlocked convention, but he offers a few scenarios that make such a rare event seem possible.

If Gingrich goes to the convention with the lead, but only about half of the delegates, he could be in trouble. Even if he holds more than 50 percent of delegates but is involved in a significant gaffe or scandal at some point later in the campaign, another candidate could emerge at the convention, in Silver’s view.

And Romney? Silver thinks Romney’s poor performance early in the campaign could hurt even if he reaches the convention with a small lead. He also thinks Ron Paul could function as a spoiler with only 10 or 15 percent of the delegates.

“All of these conditions seem plausible based on what we know right now,” Silver wrote on Dec. 9, “which is what leads me to believe that a brokered convention is plausible as well.”

Imagine that.

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at dahles@hotmail.com.