The convention hall was like a circus tent, hot, sweaty, full of the blare of band music and the shoving of crowds. There were 1,094 delegates, by turns tense, delighted, disgruntled, or just plain sleepy. There were 1,000 newsmen, darting around with the desperate air of men whose pockets have just been picked, and 10,000 people in the galleries who cheered on their heroes and booed their villains. At times everybody seemed to be moving at once--seeking another vote, raising another banner, trying to make a deal, running down a rumor, hunting for a Coke or an aspirin tablet. ...
The show moved quickly to its climax. The political horse trades were arranged, the hotel room doors knocked on, the promises made and broken. ...
Dewey men knew quite well that no applause meter nominates presidents. In two ballots Dewey was so close to a majority that everyone else gave in on the third.
-LIFE Magazine, July 5, 1948
The last time it happened was in 1948, well before the modern era of conventions as infomercials.
With Philadelphia's Convention Hall reaching 102 degrees, the wilting Republican delegates picked Thomas Dewey on the third round of voting, after leading challenger Robert Taft failed to marshal conservatives against the moderate front-runner.
Candidates and prominent supporters met in nearby hotel suites, elevators got clogged, and hopes of a stop-Dewey unity ticket briefly arose. Taft stayed on for two ballots, with even darker horses running behind him in Minnesota's Harold Stassen and Pennsylvania's Edward Martin, but Dewey won out after all three dropped out.
Since then, a few conventions have decided uncertain GOP primaries, but none have endured past the first round of voting. Both parties reformed their nominating systems in the 1970s, and state primaries have since enjoyed primacy, with party leaders less able to choose nominees behind closed doors.
This year, with three conservative dark horses hanging on against Mitt Romney, there is a slim chance -- but a chance nonetheless -- that the underdogs will refuse to give way; that Romney will fly to Tampa, Fla., this August without the requisite 1,144 delegates; and that hours of multi-round convention votes will ensue, dragging out the already-dragged-out Republican primary just a bit longer.
Unless Romney's competitors give way, the former governor may need backing from the GOP's 126 superdelegates, Republicans who vote by virtue of their position in the party, in order to reach the magic number. It's mathematically impossible for Romney to win 1,144 delegates before May 29, when Texas votes, without them.
It already looks as if the 2012 primary might end in negotiation. Romney and Newt Gingrich met, more or less secretly, around 6:30 a.m. at Romney's hotel the day before the Louisiana primary. Three weeks earlier the two had gathered with Rick Santorum offstage, at a forum organized by Mike Huckabee in Wilmington, Ohio, and the three agreed to oppose any unvetted candidate who might glide in and snatch the nomination at a brokered convention. The question may not be whether the back-bench candidates will deal their way out of the running, but when: in other words, whether or not they'll wait until Tampa.
Just what can we expect to happen on the floor of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, if the 2012 convention devolves into that kind of old-timey mess?