Most Americans are not old enough to remember the last time the political parties had a brokered convention to pick their candidate for president. But the jockeying last year by the states to have early primaries and caucuses, in an attempt to be near the front and relevant to narrowing down the field of candidates, has led to a very short time between Iowa, New Hampshire, and Super Tuesday, when the majority of delegates will be allocated. What has happened is that more candidates than ever have remained viable, the choice has not been narrowed. If Super Tuesday does not result in a majority of delegates being allocated to one candidate, then we may very well move into the convention without clear winner.
In 1924, the Democratic Convention held One Hundred and two ballots before settling on John W. Davis as their candidate. However, multi-ballot conventions are thing of the past. It is caucuses and primaries that decide our candidates and not political bosses--at least most of the time. But what if this year the primary and caucus procedure doesn’t produce a clear winner.? The primaries and caucuses will divvy up to the candidates, three thousand, two hundred and fifty-three delegates. But that is only eighty percent of the delegates. The remaining seven hundred, ninety-six delegates, twenty percent of the total, are unpledged party leaders, known as super delegates. The pledged delegates are awarded in each state contest proportionally to any candidate who receives more than fifteen percent of the vote. So if candidate A receives forty percent of the vote, candidate B receives thirty percent of the vote, and candidate C receives twenty percent of the vote, and the remaining candidates receive a total of ten percent of the vote, the remaining candidates are not viable and their delegates are divided evenly amongst the viable candidates. Which results in candidate C receiving more delegates proportionately than his vote would award him. He would receive the same amount of additional delegates as candidate A, who got twice as many votes.
The unpledged delegates, super delegates, are political insiders. They must be members of the DNC and include, the current president and vice president if they are Democrats, all of the Democratic members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, all of the Democratic governors, all former Democratic presidents, vice presidents, former Democratic Speakers of the House, former democratic Minority Leaders, and former DNC Chairs. When you hear that one of these leaders has endorsed a candidate, he has basically guaranteed the candidate his super delegate vote. Super delegates were created in 1980 by the Democratic Party in response to being unsatisfied with the candidates that had been chosen by primaries and caucuses in the previous three conventions. They had thought allowing more input by the establishment would result in more acceptable candidates. However, the next two candidates selected with the input of super delegates, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis, acceptable to the establishment, were rejected soundly by voters.
If the primary and caucus process does not give us a clear winner, then the convention itself will determine who is the candidate. The currency of these brokered conventions is delegates and a candidate needs at least half the delegates to win the nomination. The delegates are valuable, and a candidate who cannot win the nomination can still be a “king maker,” tossing his delegate support to one candidate or another, putting them over the fifty percent needed. It could also be decided by the super delegate votes. Brokered conventions are never good for the party and this one could be very destructive to party unity. The 2008 Democratic National Convention is August 25th – 28th. That is long time for us to go from Super Tuesday until we settle on a candidate. The longer one supports a candidate, the more bitter it is when he loses. Healing that divide in the party will be essential to winning the White House in November. In 1980, when Senator Edward Kennedy ran against sitting President Jimmy Carter and lost the nomination, he failed to toss his support behind Carter. This division within the party contributed to our losing the White House and the beginning of the Reagan era and Republican rule. While not having a clear winner has energized voters, we will have a lot of work to do to unite the party before November.