Republicans are in uncharted territory as they inch toward their first contested presidential nominating convention in 40 years.
Delegates to the quadrennial GOP gathering cast the official votes that nominate the party's presidential candidate. But not since Ronald Reagan challenged President Gerald Ford in Kansas City have their votes been more than a formality. This year could be different, as four Republican contenders threaten to divide the vote in the primaries and caucuses and arrive in Cleveland having blocked each other from 1,237 delegates, the threshold needed to secure the nomination.
"These people will be free to vote for who they want to," said Shawn Steel, who as the Republican National Committeeman from California is a delegate to the party's July convention. "These are political people. When they realize the power they have, there is going to be a lot of dealing."
The looming question is whether delegates are prepared to exercise that power and nominate a candidate other than the individual who earns a plurality of votes (and delegates) in the primaries.
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