Republicans, after three different winners in three primaries, worry about the possibility of a deadlocked convention.

Perhaps it is appropriate that the party that has become the symbol for gridlock in Washington could find itself gridlocked when it comes to picking their next candidate for President.

Will Rogers used to say “I’m not a member of any organized political party…I’m a Democrat.” Nowadays, the same thing could be said for Republicans.

“The way it looks now, it could end up in the convention,” Ron Schmidt, South Dakota’s Republican National Committeeman, told the Associated Ptess. “It’s fascinating if you’re a political junkie.”

Reports Charles Babbington of the AP:

The Republican presidential race is so unsettled that some party officials are openly talking of a scenario that seemed almost unthinkable until now: the first contested GOP convention in 60 years.

Even if Republicans choose a nominee before they convene in Minneapolis-St. Paul on Sept. 1, there’s a good possibility he will emerge weeks or even months after the Democratic nominee is chosen, giving Democrats an advantage in fundraising, organizing and campaigning. Congressional Republicans particularly wanted an early nominee to draw voters’ attention from President Bush, whose low approval ratings could hurt the entire party in the fall.

Bush’s former top political aide, Karl Rove, told Republican officials Wednesday that major challenges await “the moment our candidate secures the nomination.” As if they needed reminding, Rove told those at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting, “the primaries are far from over.”

Democrats also face the possibility of a long and costly battle involving Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois and former Sen. John Edwards. But officials attending the RNC meeting said Democrats seem likely to make their choice before a clear winner emerges from the pack of four or five still-credible GOP contenders.

In the major contests so far — Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan — three different Republicans have finished first. If former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson scores the win he hopes for in South Carolina on Saturday, he would be the fourth first-place finisher. Likewise, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani could be the fifth winner in the five contests if he proves wise in picking Florida’s Jan. 29 primary as his first big stand.

Politicians had long assumed the Feb. 5 “Super Tuesday” primary, involving California, New York and 22 other states, would resolve any doubts about either party’s nominee. Democrats feel slightly less certain about that now, and Republicans are even more doubtful.

The GOP process could go “right up to the point that we don’t have a clear candidate with enough electoral votes to win” the nomination when the conventions start, said Herbert Schoenbohm, Republican Party chairman for the Virgin Islands. That would be fine with Schoenbohm, who said he is “tired of the coronations and staged events” of recent conventions.

But a deadlocked convention could be a nightmare for the party. The Republicans’ last multi-ballot convention was in 1948, when New York Gov. Thomas Dewey prevailed on the third ballot. He lost the general election to Democrat Harry S. Truman.

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