The state of the Democratic primary: Heading to a brokered convention?
A couple things can be learned from New Hampshire’s “first in the nation” primary election.
President Trump showed historic strength, winning a record number of New Hampshire primary votes as an incumbent president running for reelection. “The Revolution” is no longer cancelled, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) edged out a hard-fought win in the same race he dominated four years ago. Former vice president Joe Biden, in a slight to New Hampshire, slipped away before the votes were even counted. And two candidates with three-syllable last names might make the four days of the 2020 Democratic National Committee’s convention much longer than DNC chairman Tom Perez would ever want.
What does this all mean? Well, if you were hoping for a little more clarity after the Iowa Democratic Caucus’s “Appageddon,” you’ve got it. It just might not have been the kind of clarity you were looking for.
Biden’s probably done. This is likely the beginning of the end of former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign. Bailing on a state in which your campaign workers, volunteers and donors invested before hearing the results isn’t strategic: it’s disrespectful. Retreating to his supposed “firewall” of South Carolina, he’ll find no position of strength. Rivals Tom Steyer — who, yes, is still in the race — and Sanders are surging there and, after his weak performance in New Hampshire, some donors might find it is time to place their hopes in somebody else.
Bernie could become the nominee. It’s a fragmented field, but New Hampshire reminded us that Bernie’s support is strong and his supporters are committed. Having fought and lost against the rigged system of the DNC once before, we know Bernie’s ready for a long fight. If the field narrows, and his popularity with the Democratic base consolidates, he could win it outright. However, it’s looking more and more likely that many of the top candidates will be in it for the long haul and prevent Bernie from reaching the delegate threshold.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar have made the race interesting. Be honest — these two people, who you hadn’t heard of before they announced their candidacies, have pulled off amazing feats. In two states in a row, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., has kept Bernie from big-margin victories, and the senator from Minnesota has made the media recognize who she is. Do the results in New Hampshire, then, serve as the start to some glorious underdog story? Probably not. But what they do show is that some (unexpected) candidates may stay stubbornly popular deeper and deeper into the primary season, making it hard for any candidate to win the nomination outright.
Bloomberg entering the race on Super Tuesday will make it even more muddled. Personally, I don’t think his $350 million and counting investment in his candidacy will pay off in some big, dramatic way. It was bad enough being a billionaire in a party that believes it is immoral for billionaires to exist. But combining that with his tough-on-crime stance as New York City mayor, and his comments on “stop-and-frisk” that have just resurfaced, should make the Democratic base run away. However, some of the older, more moderate Dems who lost their faith in Biden may happily jump over to Bloomberg, spreading the party’s pledged delegates out more and more.
What actually happens if no candidate wins the nomination by convention time? Here’s how it works:
There are 4,750 total delegates to be committed this primary season in the Democratic Party; 3,979 of them will be pledged to different candidates by voters, based on the results of each state’s primary or caucus. And 771 of them are “superdelegates” — important elected officials in the Democratic Party who aren’t committed to any candidate (i.e., who can vote for anyone to become the nominee).
If any candidate wins 1,990 (more than half) of the 3,979 delegates pledged through state primaries and caucuses, that person becomes the nominee. However, if no candidate breaks past this number after every primary contest has been held and after the first convention ballot, then all 4,750 delegates become free to vote for any candidate they choose. Whichever candidate gets the majority of these 4,750 delegate votes, then, becomes the nominee.
Can you imagine what that would look like? Bloomberg handing out stacks of cash to delegates on the floor. Mayor Pete running from delegation to delegation, campaigning like he would to be president of his college politics club. Joe Biden wandering in circles. And the party figureheads, the “superdelegates,” thinking to themselves how Bernie isn’t fit to be the nominee and maybe running Hillary a second time is the best idea.
I might buy a ticket to that convention.