WASHINGTON, March 29 (UPI) -- Republican front-runner Donald Trump is turning to a veteran of GOP nominating contests to run his floor operations ahead of what could be a divided party convention in Cleveland this summer.
Paul Manafort, a top Republican campaign consultant since the 1970s, has signed on to the Trump campaign to serve as the billionaire's convention coordinator.
The hiring comes as Trump is forced to acknowledge the possibility that he will enter the July convention with the delegate lead, but still lacking the required 1,237 he needs to secure the nomination on the first ballot.
Manafort helped oversee former President Gerald Ford's floor operations in 1976, when the incumbent president, who had never won a national election, faced a stiff challenge from former California Gov. Ronald Reagan. Ford entered that year's convention in what could be a similar position to Trump's this year, with a lead in delegates but not an outright majority.
After holding off Reagan's challenge in 1976, Manafort joined Reagan four years later to oversee his 1980 nomination. After partnering with two other Republican young guns in the Reagan era, Roger Stone and Charles Black, to form a top-flight political consulting firm, Manafort went on to work for GOP presidential candidates George H.W. Bush and Kansas Sen. Bob Dole.
Trump confirmed Manafort's hiring to The New York Times on Tuesday.
His former business partners, however, are split. Stone is a Trump supporter who frequently appears on television while Black has signed on to run the floor operation for Trump rival and Ohio governor John Kasich.
Trump has said repeatedly during his campaign that he believes he should win the nomination even if he fails to enter the convention with the number of delegates needed for a first ballot victory. Anything less, he said, and "there would be riots."
The Republican National Convention will be held at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland from July 18-21.