By: J. Randolph Evans
In 1984, Vice President Walter Mondale was 40 delegates short of the number of delegates necessary to win the Democratic Presidential nomination. It was the last time that a national party convention opened without its Presidential nominee having been decided by its state primaries and caucuses. Mondale easily won the nomination at the Democratic National Convention, only to lose decisively to President Ronald Reagan in the 1984 General Election.
Until midway through the 20th century, national party conventions picked the Presidential candidates for the national political parties. But, both parties learned that without a nominee being selected beforehand, conventions can be dangerous things.
One of the best examples was the 1924 Democratic National Convention when the Democratic party was split. In 1924, Democrats did not pick their nominee until the 103rd ballot and that was only after someone other than the leading contenders emerged and won the nomination. 1924 Democratic nominee John W. Davis went on to lose to President Calvin Coolidge.
Since President Franklin Roosevelt, nominees picked at the party conventions have not fared well. In 1948, Republican Thomas Dewey lost to President Harry Truman; in 1952, Democrat Adlai Stevenson lost to President Dwight Eisenhower. Not surprisingly, the national political parties moved steadily away from having their national conventions pick their nominee. Instead, they moved toward the current system of primaries and caucuses.
According to conventional wisdom, the current process can vet the candidates, expose any flaws, and nominate the strongest candidate. If things get a little wacky, ‘Super- delegates’ can act as a safeguard against the unexpected.
Under the current process, incumbent Presidents (like President Jimmy Carter and President George Bush) and establishment candidates (like Vice President Walter Mondale and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole) have appeared to have the edge even when they may not have been the strongest candidates for the General Election. That was then.
The internet and cable news changed all that.
In 2008, Senator Hillary Clinton was the clear choice of party insiders and the Democratic Party establishment. By all accounts, the system was supposed to help candidates just like her. As a result, she was the presumptive nominee before she had the first delegate. If things got a little shaky, the Super-delegates could put her over the top. Of course, it did not work out that way. In fact, nothing went according to script in 2008. In the end, the Super-delegates ended up putting then-Senator Barack Obama over the top – to the surprise of virtually every Democratic political insider in the country.
Now comes the 2012 GOP Presidential nomination. With 7 different frontrunners, it has been a real roller coaster ride – with no single candidate taking control of the race. The only thing certain about the 2012 GOP race is that nothing is certain.
Just when it appeared that Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney had the political train moving with wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, things changed. It turned out that he did not win in Iowa and then he was beaten in South Carolina by former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Then, just when it appeared that it was a two-man race between Romney and Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum won Missouri, Colorado, and Minnesota.
To win the nomination, one of the three must lock down 1,144 delegates before the convention. So far, no one is close. To put it in perspective, if a building (like the Empire State Building) was 1,144 feet high, none of the candidates has yet passed the third floor – AND the process forces them all to take the stairs. Here’s why.
Delegates are ‘proportioned’ in most states. Georgia is a good example. Georgia has the most delegates (76) of any state on Super Tuesday – three of which are Super delegates. Yet, Georgia’s 73 available delegates are divided between at-large delegates (31) and Congressional delegates (42) with three per Congressional district. The candidate receiving the most primary votes in a Congressional District gets two votes, and the second place finisher gets one. The at-large delegates are also then divided.
So, Georgia’s winner gets more delegates, but the loser gets delegates as well. This kind of process is repeated in most other states around the country with only a few elevators (or winner-take-all states) and lots of stairs.
With three major candidates still in the race, and proportioned delegates, no candidate can actually run away with the nomination any time soon. Yet, while the process starts pretty slow, it ends with a bang. Two big states and the Super-delegates tell the story.
Texas (155 delegates), California (172 delegates), and Super-delegates (123) account for 450 delegates – or 40% of the delegates needed for the nomination. Texas’s primary is delayed; California’s (not till June 5th) is winner-take-all; and the Super-delegates are unpledged. Basically, at the end, things will happen quickly.