Conservatives gathered in Washington this week are increasingly relishing the prospect that the Republican presidential nomination fight will extend for months, and could even lead to a brokered convention in Tampa, Fla., this summer.

Fueled by former Sen. Rick Santorum’s stunning three-state sweep in Tuesday’s three primaries and caucuses, those at the Conservative Political Action Conference — the country’s largest annual gathering of right-leaning activists — said the chances for a stalemate in the delegate count grow with every stumble by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

“For the first time in a while, there is actually at this point a reasonable chance that the nomination could come down to a floor fight,” saidJeffrey M. Frederick, former Virginia Republican Party chairman.

The last convention when the outcome was in any doubt whatsoever was 1976, but Republicans structured their rules this year to make the process move slower and let candidates earn delegates even when they don’t win states. Under the new rules, contests held before April are supposed to award delegates on a proportional basis, as opposed to the winner-take-all fashion that governed many past races and that tended to wrap things up quickly.

“It is at least possible, because the system has changed considerably, that no one will have a majority at the time the convention convenes, and we might have a multi-ballot convention,” said Morton C. Blackwell, a National Republican Committee member from Virginia.

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