June 17, 2024

Democratic dark horse

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
A Democratic dark horse
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON – A week can be an eon in politics, and in a week, we have come from the likelihood of super Tuesday deciding the Democratic presidential nominee to the prospect of a brokered convention.
          The outcome of the Iowa caucuses is so muddled that the Democratic Party’s national chair, Tom Perez, called on the local party to “recanvass” the results, which is basically a recount. By the time that’s done, the candidates will have long since moved on to New Hampshire, where Sen. Bernie Sanders of next-door Vermont is leading the pack and ready to capitalize on what appears to be a virtual tie in Iowa with former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
          Iowa is supposed to winnow the race, but no candidate is dropping out after the mess created by a faulty app and a local Democratic Party clearly in over its head.
          Get used to the muddle. Next week’s New Hampshire primary is unlikely to clarify the race. Sanders won big in 2016 over Hillary Clinton there, and he’s expected to top the field again with Buttigieg and Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren jostling for second, third and fourth.
          If Warren doesn’t do well as a senator from neighboring Massachusetts, she’ll be in trouble. And if Biden doesn’t step up his game and finish in the top three, he opens the door wide to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg who will be on the ballot on March 3rd, Super Tuesday, when 1,344 delegates will be allocated, a third of those needed to win the nomination.
          The DNC loosened its rules to allow Bloomberg to participate in the Democratic debate in Las Vegas on February 19 even though he is not competing in the Nevada caucuses. The DNC is taking a lot of heat for accommodating Bloomberg, a billionaire buying his way into the race, when it didn’t change the rules for other candidates, particularly those of color trying to qualify for the debate stage.
          Meanwhile, unless a consensus suddenly forms around a single candidate, the Democrats will have four candidates with the resources to go the distance: Sanders, Buttigieg, Biden, and Bloomberg.
          And because the Democrats distribute delegates on a proportional basis, depending on the share of the vote candidates receive, the primaries could end in June without a single candidate winning the number of 2,376 delegates necessary to be nominated. If so, the candidates will face convoluted rules and an anything-goes convention.
          In rules pushed through by Sanders’ supporters, who wanted to limit the power of superdelegates, chosen by the party rather than the voters, if a single candidate comes close to the magic number, winning at least 2,268 pledged delegates, superdelegates will be allowed to vote on the first ballot since they would not have enough influence to overturn the majority result.
          If a single candidate wins between 1,886 and 2,267 delegates, superdelegates cannot vote on the first ballot. And if no candidate wins more than 1,885 delegates, there will be a contested convention.
          Under the new Sanders-sanctioned rules, in a contested convention, superdelegates would regain their right to vote on the second ballot and any subsequent ballots.
          To put this in context, there hasn’t been a contested convention since 1952, when Adlai Stevenson was nominated on the Democrat’s third ballot. (He lost the election to Dwight Eisenhower.)
          The prospect of a contested or brokered convention strikes terror into the hearts of Democratic leaders for two reasons. Anything can happen, and short of a miracle, the ensuing chaos would likely doom the party’s prospects in November.
          A compromise candidate – known as a dark-horse such as New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce in 1852 – who was not a pre-convention contender, could emerge, or a candidate who finishes further back in the pack but who could gain the votes of the superdelegates could be victorious. It’s way too soon to game this out but this is what the Sanders people were wary of when they negotiated the rules change.
          It’s fair to say that the majority of the 716 superdelegates who will be at the Democratic Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin are not likely to support Sanders, an avowed socialist, which is why his team fought to limit their number and their influence. So, if not him and if not them – Biden, Buttigieg, or Bloomberg – then whom? A dark horse?
          Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2020 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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