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Senate Republicans Dread Drawn-Out GOP Primary

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sen. John Thune (above), who is supporting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the GOP presidential primary, said not selecting a nominee by the end of June would allow President Barack Obama to escape much of the damage an opposition campaign might inflict.

Waiting until the late August convention in Tampa to select a GOP presidential nominee would essentially hand a second term to President Barack Obama, prominent Senate Republicans said Tuesday.

Some in the GOP are speculating that the four remaining presidential candidates will be unable to secure the required 1,144 delegates, pushing the decision to a convention floor vote that is typically an orchestrated formality. Senate Republicans expect their party to crown a nominee by the time the primary season ends in June, thus avoiding such a scenario. But they caution that failure to do so would be a political disaster.

“It would be a big mistake on our part,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is not aligned with a presidential candidate. “If we don’t have a nominee [until] Labor Day, we’re in trouble.”

On primary day in Alabama, Hawaii and Mississippi, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney maintained a sizable delegate lead over former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), ex-Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) and Rep. Ron Paul (Texas). Before Tuesday’s contests, Romney’s count stood at 454, with Santorum in second at 217, followed by Gingrich at 107 and Paul at 47, according to the Associated Press.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the leader of Romney’s Capitol Hill Whip team, said  that how the governor finished in Alabama and Mississippi could have a major effect on the race going forward.

Blunt suggested that a victory in just one of these conservative Southern states could help Romney wrap up the race sooner rather than later. Given the proportional awarding of delegates in many states and Romney’s occasional trouble securing the votes of self-described “very conservative” voters, even many political observers who expect the governor to win the nomination say it could take him until June.

“I think the way he finishes in these two states today is important,” Blunt said. “I expect to have a nominee by the time we go to the convention.”

Most Congressional Republicans who have made endorsements are backing Romney. But much of their worry over a contested convention, or one that is brokered and produces a different candidate altogether, is born of logistics and timing.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the GOP White House nominee four years ago, said that every day the 2012 primary continues is one less day before Nov. 6 that Republicans can train their campaign fire on Obama’s record and soften the president’s re-election prospects. To underscore his point, McCain cited polling that has at times shown the Republican candidates with low personal favorability numbers and Obama in decent shape for re-election.

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