The three U.S. Republican presidential candidates are wooing party officials at an oceanside resort in Florida to try to shape rules that could govern a contested nomination fight at the party's national convention in July.
The campaign front-runner, billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump, says he expects to have a majority of convention delegates necessary to claim the nomination by the time state-by-state nominating contests end in early June.
Nonetheless, Trump, who has often attacked party officials and claimed that election rules that vary from state to state have "rigged" the outcome against him, sent his top aides to meet Thursday with the 168 local and state officials who constitute the Republican National Committee.
A Trump campaign memo this week vowed that he would have 1,400 delegates pledged to vote for him at the convention. If so, that number outweighs the 1,237 simple majority needed to be the party's standard bearer in the November national election to pick the successor to President Barack Obama, who leaves office in January.
But numerous U.S. political analysts say a contested convention fight over the nomination is a distinct possibility. It would be the first contested convention for Republicans since 1976.
With 15 states yet to hold nominating contests, Trump has a narrow path to claim the nomination ahead of the convention.
Cruz, Kasich and numbers
Trump's chief rival for the nomination, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, showed up at the party conclave and scoffed at Trump's claim that he will have the nomination sewed up by the time the quadrennial convention convenes.
"What is clear today," Cruz said Wednesday, "is that we are headed toward a contested convention. Nobody is able to reach 1,237. I am not going to reach 1,237, and Donald Trump is not going to reach 1,237."
A third presidential contender, Ohio Governor John Kasich, told the party’s gathering that surveys of U.S. voters show that he is the only Republican who can defeat the likely Democratic presidential nominee, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in the November election.
"My message to the delegates is that I can win," Kasich told reporters. "It's reflected in every poll."
Cruz complained about Kasich staying in the presidential contest, claiming that it undercuts his chances of overtaking Trump for the nomination. Kasich has won only one nominating contest — in Ohio, the state he governs.
Kasich rebuffed Cruz, saying, "He's saying if I can't mathematically win the nomination, I should get out. He can't mathematically win. What's good for the goose is good for the gander."
Further complicating the numbers game: Once the convention is underway, some delegate votes can change.
Hundreds of the national convention delegates that Trump is accumulating, for example, are obligated to vote for him only on the first ballot. If Trump does not win a first-ballot victory and claim the nomination, those delegates can switch their allegiance on subsequent ballots.
Clinton, the country's top diplomat from 2009 to 2013, has yet to wrap up the Democratic nomination, but has a commanding lead over her sole challenger, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
There are five more state nominating contests for both parties Tuesday, in the five northeastern states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware.