I know this is really long for a typical blog post, but this is a column I wrote for Drake’s newspaper today. I just thought it was an interesting topic you folks might enjoy:
Democratic selection might not be known until national convention
by Patrick Rynard (Columnist)
Issue date: 4/2/07 Section: Opinion
By this time next year, we ought to know who the nominees for president are. The candidates will have slugged it out in the early states, and an early winner will have gained the momentum to sweep the 20-plus states that make up this cycle’s “Super-Duper Tuesday.” Before Valentine’s Day arrives, all but one candidate will have dropped out on either side.
Or at least that’s what the conventional wisdom predicts will happen. I believe we may see a much different, much more exciting nomination. One in which the final outcome isn’t even decided for the Democrats until the national convention come August 25. Which would mean, yes, a major convention floor fight for the presidential nomination – something we haven’t seen since 1968.
So how could it happen? Well, first consider the madness that is quickly becoming the 2008 presidential primary schedule. Traditionally, the line-up of states went like this: the Iowa caucuses were first in late January or early February, followed up a week or two later by the New Hampshire primary and then another week or two by South Carolina. Then came a few weeks where several states would hold their primaries or caucuses on the same day, until we eventually got to “Super Tuesday,” a Tuesday in March where many states, including some of the largest, would vote and usually finalize the winner.
However, this year the Nevada caucuses have been placed in between Iowa and New Hampshire. Thanks to this and envy over Iowa’s huge role in the last nomination, other states are stampeding for an early vote. Now we’re looking at a “Super-Duper Tuesday” on Feb. 5, with the possibility of over 20 states, including big states like California, New York, Texas, New Jersey and Pennsylvania holding their primaries and caucuses on the same day. They would account for well over half the total delegate count.
Now consider this possible scenario: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and, to a lesser extent, John Edwards go into the early states with tons of star power and money. But instead of one of them winning, suppose a dark horse candidate like Bill Richardson pulls off an upset by either winning a few of the early states, or doing much better than expected. Then Richardson has the all-mighty momentum and press coverage going into “Super-Duper Tuesday.”
But Clinton and Obama would still have the financial advantage going into the big states with expensive media markets. In the 1988 Democratic nomination race, Dick Gephardt got the early momentum after winning Iowa, but was crushed by original front-runner Michael Dukakis’ money advantage, which allowed Dukakis to run tons of negative ads against Gephardt in later primary states. Richardson might have the early momentum, but he simply wouldn’t have enough time to raise money off his early success and turn it into television ads. Clinton and Obama would own the airwaves, while Richardson rode a tide of positive free press. (And all of this is assuming Al Gore doesn’t get into the mix, which would upend things even more.)
So you would go into “Super-Duper Tuesday” with a three- or four-way split vote. One candidate might win a majority of the states, but most primaries aren’t a winner-take-all system. If you win a fourth of a state’s vote, you get a fourth of their delegates to the convention. So you could easily end up with no candidates winning the majority of delegates they need. And then what do you do? Well over half of the total delegates will have been chosen that day – there may not even be enough in the later states to win the majority.
So what would this mean? Well, in a word, chaos. Mass chaos. For one, you would have a campaign that lasts all the way into August. Past fundraising records would look quaint compared to the all-out brawl of a campaign that would occur. If no candidate could get a majority of delegates before the convention, each side would try to deliver a knock-out punch to the others in the hope they drop out before the convention, thus freeing up their delegates.
And then you would have the convention, at which no one would know what they’re doing. Not the candidates, not their campaign staff, not the convention delegates, not even the press.
To get any sense of how it might play out, your best source to look to would probably be the TV series “The West Wing.” Two years ago they depicted an undecided convention, in which a former vice president, the current vice president and a dark horse congressman split the delegate vote. To capture the nomination arms were twisted, federal jobs were offered and important votes were promised in order to convince delegates to switch to one side. Another candidate even threw his hat into the ring in the middle of the convention (Al Gore, anyone?). In the event this happened, one would assume Hillary Clinton would win any back-room power plays. But with the uncertainty of the moment, a candidate’s dramatic, compelling speech could sway the crowd.
All in all, it’s impossible to predict at this point what would happen at an undecided convention, or whether one will even happen. But I have a feeling this new ultra front-loaded process could have exactly the opposite effect many believe it will. One thing’s for sure though. The best person to be in this process is a convention delegate. In fact, I’d encourage you to become one for Iowa. Who knows, a year and a half from now, your vote at the convention could be worth an ambassadorship to a tropical island nation.