Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens to a question during a press conference following the weekly policy meeting at the U.S. Capitol Dec. 1, 2015 in Washington, DC.
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Mitch McConnell is ‘optimistic’ about second ballot at Republican Convention

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday that he is “optimistic” that the Republican National Convention in July will need a second ballot to decide the party’s nominee.

Since Donald Trump is well ahead among pledged delegates and likely the only GOP candidate who could win the nomination on the first ballot, the Kentucky Republican’s enthusiasm about a second vote suggests he does not favor Trump.

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“We’re going to follow the rules of the convention,” McConnell told Louisville’s ABC affiliate WHAS. “When a nominee gets to 1,237, he will actually be the candidate. If he doesn’t, there will be a second ballot. Sixty percent of the delegates who are bound on the first ballot will be free to do whatever they want on the second ballot.”

He added, “I’m increasingly optimistic that there will actually be a second ballot.”

McConnell’s comments are likely to heighten an escalating feud between the GOP establishment and Trump. As Ted Cruz outmaneuvers Trump at state conventions that actually determine the delegates who will attend the convention, the real estate mogul has been complaining that this process is unfair.

Trump argues that since he is likely to win the most delegates and states in the nomination process, he should be the party’s nominee, even if he arrives at the convention with fewer than the required 1,237 delegates.

He says these delegate procedures are anti-democratic and ignore the will of voters.

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But McConnell, in his remarks, is taking the view of RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, Cruz and other Republicans who have argued that the delegates can choose whichever candidate they like if they are not bound by state law. The delegates, these Republicans say, specifically pick the nominee.

McConnell has said that he could be one of Kentucky’s delegates to the RNC himself.

And McConnell’s stance is particularly significant because of his status as both a key Republican leader and as a person from a state that Trump won.

Trump carried Kentucky’s caucuses in March with about 36 percent of the vote, compared to 32 percent for Ted Cruz. So if McConnell does not feel compelled by the vote of his home-state Republicans to back Trump at the convention, Republicans from other states that Trump won may do the same.

McConnell is widely viewed by fellow Republicans as one of the party’s smartest political strategists. If he is hinting to fellow Republican delegates that they should avoid nominating Trump, that message too may be heeded. 

This story originally appeared on NBCNews.com.

Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz

Mitch McConnell is 'optimistic' about second ballot at Republican Convention