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The GOP nomination process
Republican nominee-in-waiting

While Bush is the only major candidate seeking the 2004 GOP nomination, he cannot officially become the nominee until this summer.
While Bush is the only major candidate seeking the 2004 GOP nomination, he cannot officially become the nominee until this summer.
Long process to precede Bush nomination

(CNN) -- It's not official for another seven-plus months, but George W. Bush's coronation as the Republican party's 2004 presidential nominee is in the bag.

Adhering to decades' worth of customs and rules, this year the Republicans will conduct a series of local, district and state-level primaries, caucuses and meetings to select national convention delegates who, in turn, will decide the party's presidential nominee.

Barring an unprecedented turn of events, this highly bureaucratic but hardly dramatic process will have no bearing on the end result: Bush representing the Republicans on the November 2 general election ballot.

Much like his Democratic counterparts, the incumbent president must be formally nominated at the Republican national convention, set for August 30 through September 2 in New York. But unlike his opposition, the former Texas governor holds every possible advantage in the "race" for his party's presidential nomination.

The most obvious: Bush faces no real Republican competition.

His father, the country's 41st president, faced an in-house challenge from Pat Buchanan for a second straight GOP nomination in 1992. But no Republican has stepped up against the younger Bush, giving him free reign to his party's supporters and their pocketbooks.

When the new year began, the Bush/Cheney '04 campaign team had raised more than $130 million, with $99 million ready-to-spend. So if a serious GOP challenger did appear out of thin air, they'd be at a huge disadvantage. (Full story)

More likely, Bush will have most all that money -- plus the tens of millions more dollars he is expected to accrue in the coming months -- on-hand this summer.

And while Democrats typically award delegates "proportionally" (divvying up delegates to multiple candidates based on vote percentage), most GOP primaries are "winner-take-all" -- a nice bonus if you are, as should often be the case for Bush, the only legitimate name on the ballot.

State-by-state basis

Still, process is process, and each state's official GOP organization -- with the approval of the Republican National Committee -- has specific, if varying guidelines to determine how delegates and, in turn, the party's 2004 presidential nominee will be chosen.

Many GOP primaries and caucuses -- like those in Iowa and New Hampshire this January and in 10 states on March 2 -- will be held on the same date and, in some cases, the same locations as the corresponding Democratic presidential races.

Yet Bush's dominance in GOP circles has prompted numerous state parties to tweak their national convention delegate selection plans.

Some state Republican parties will forgo primaries and caucuses altogether, instead picking a full slate of delegates at county, district and, in some cases, state conventions. Delaware, for instance, will hold a Democratic presidential primary on February 3 but will not hold a GOP primary, instead choosing its delegates at the May 13 state Republican convention.

In several states, such as Hawaii and Maine, local caucuses won't be held on one day -- as is typical for contested primaries and caucuses, in which organizers hope to promote voter turnout and benefit from government funding. Instead, the caucuses will be run exclusively (and sporadically) by local GOP organizations over several weeks.

Some delegates dispatched to New York by several states' GOP parties, including Alaska and Arizona, can make up their own mind at the convention and vote for anyone for the party's presidential nomination. But these unpledged delegates -- in the unlikely case they decide not to back Bush -- will be far outnumbered by those obligated and inclined to support the incumbent president.

In fact, the former Texas governor is already ahead.

Weeks before John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean or any other Democrats could earn a single delegate, the state Republican party in South Carolina threw its support -- and that of its 46 delegates -- behind George W. Bush.

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