Monday, February 4, 2008

It's the Delegates, Stupid

Forget Super Tuesday. Primary Season will extend through the spring, perhaps all the way into the Conventions.

Super Tuesday may be tomorrow, but it may not decide the nominees for November. Both the Democrats and Republicans are entering Super Tuesday with two strong candidates for their party’s nomination. Iowa, New Hampshire and the other early primaries and caucuses performed their role of winnowing out the field.

The country learnt in 2000 that the key to the Presidency is the Electoral College and not the popular vote. Similarly, the delegates control the nominating process – not the popular vote. The count of delegates proceeds state by state, not always under uniform rules.

We must also understand that the Media does not want the process to end this soon. Suspense and lengthy nomination process add excitement, not to mention circulation and viewership, to the contest. Clinched nominations at the beginning of February create a large void, indeed a news vacuum, between now and the summer.

Only if one of the candidates in each party receives total victory on Tuesday might the nominations be closed, but that is almost mathematically impossible.

The Democrats select 2064 delegates on Tuesday, out of the 2065 needed for the nomination. However, no state selects delegates on a “winner take all” formula in the Democratic Party. The delegates are apportioned proportionately, based upon votes in the state, sometimes under convoluted formulas. For example, Hillary won Nevada, but Barack received one more delegate from the state.

We can assume that neither Barack nor Hillary will win an overwhelming majority of the Democratic delegates on Tuesday, and that both have the financial resources and backing to carry on through the spring.

If though either Barack or Hillary receive an overwhelming percent of the delegates selected tomorrow, then the other might see the light and gracefully withdraw.

Just as conceivable though is that if Barack pulls an upset, then Hillary’s people may decide to wait out this tidal wave of enthusiasm for Barack, assuming that it is in fact such a wave of euphoria that will recede before the Convention.

If Hillary pulls through with a large percent of the votes and delegates tomorrow, then Barack may still reason that the voters increasingly perceive him as the candidate of change for the future. The more voters see of Barack, the more they like him.

The Republicans will select 1081 delegates on Tuesday, but 1191 are needed for the nomination. Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri, New Jersey, and New York are winner take all states, presumably pledging all their delegates to McCain. However, most states select their delegates by Congressional District. Thus, simply winning a majority of the vote may not necessarily result in a majority of the state’s delegates if the weaker candidate wins most of the Congressional Districts, as might happen in California.

Once again, even if McCain as the favorite wins most of the votes on Tuesday, Romney may reap sufficient delegates to continue through to the Convention. He also has the resources, and backing of many conservatives, to stay in the race. Will he? As a highly successful business man, at some point he knows how to cut his losses. Let’s see how super Super Tuesday is for McCain and Romney.

Quite possibly, for the first time in living memory, not just one, but both parties may not have selected their nominee before the Convention, resulting in an Open Convention. The Media will love it. The suspense is building. That will be exciting.

Open conventions, with the image of smoked filled rooms and brokered conventions, are a distinct possibility, absent the cigarettes and cigars. The wheeling and dealing, the exercises of raw political power, the promises demanded and made, often in secrecy, may set democracy back a century.

If every delegate is critical, imagine what a delegate from West Podunk can demand for a vote. On the bright side, a brokered convention gave the nation Woodrow Wilson on the 46th ballot of the 1912 Democratic Convention.

On the negative side in national elections, the disputed 1876 Presidential election resulted in a compromise whereby the Southern Democrats supported the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, on condition the Republicans pull the Union Army out of the South, thereby ending Reconstruction and ushering in a century of segregation.

797 delegates to the Democratic Convention, about 20% of the total, are “super delegates’ unelected by the voters, but appointed by virtue of their political positions. They are unpledged and can vote for whoever they wish at the Convention. The pressure on them by the “Party” will be overwhelming. Obviously, they will like the nominee to be decided before the Convention. If not, they may control, and then the fun begins.

The 1968 Democratic primaries showed the power of the anti-war Senator Eugene McCarthy. President Johnson used his political powers to secure the nomination for his Vice-President, Hubert Humphrey. The result was to elect Richard Nixon in November.

The super delegates gave the nomination to Walter Mondale in 1984 over Senator Gary Hart, although it probably made no difference in the November reelection of President Reagan.

If the Democratic nominee is not chosen before the Convention, then a critical subplot will be the role of Michigan and Florida. The Party refused to seat their delegates because they voted at an earlier date than the Party wished. All the Democratic Candidates, with the exception of Hillary, honored a pledge not to campaign in the two states. She won both handily and is now asking their delegates to be seated at the Convention. If the Convention votes to seat them, then Hillary will almost certainly be the nominee

The real problem for America is that the compression of the primary season has resulted in much of America not getting a good look at the candidates. The citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire, and to a lesser extent, South Carolina and Florida, did, often to the point of “face to face”, but the rest of us have not.

Decisions are all too often being made on the basis of momentum, 15 second impressions, advertising, and endorsements rather than analysis and solid information. In theory, everything is available on the internet today, but one needs time to analyze all the information..

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