The Primaries Don’t Matter Anymore

Ken AshfordElection 2008Leave a Comment

It’s true.

On the GOP side, they already have their nominee.  Huckabee is still in the race, but short of a miracle or the death of McCain, he simply cannot muster enough delegates to overtake McCain.

On the Dem side, it’s over for a different reason:

Here’s the math. There are 3,253 pledged delegates, those doled out based on actual voting in primaries and caucuses. And you need 2,025 to win the nomination.

To date, about 55% of those 3,253 delegates have been pledged in the voting process — with Clinton and Obama roughly splitting them at about 900 delegates a piece.

That means there are now only about 1,400 delegates left up for grabs in the remaining states and territories voting.

So, do the math. If they both have about 900 pledged delegates so far, they need to win more than 1,100 of the remaining 1,400 delegates to win the nomination through actual voting.

Ain’t gonna happen, barring a stunning scandal or some new crazy revelation. So, they’ll keep fighting this thing out, each accumulating their chunk of delegates, one of them holding a slight edge and bothing finishing the voting process with 1,600 or so delegates.

And that means the nomination will be decided by superdelegates, that ragtag group of party bosses, governors, Congresscritters, and state legislators.  And who do they largely support?  Well, they’ve been in the game for a while, so they’re going to support the candidate who has been in the game with them the longest.

And that ain’t Obama.

Obama’s campaign is quite aware of this:

Barack Obama’s advisers are anticipating the possibility of a Democratic presidential race deadlocked past the last primary, and the outcome may hinge on a fight over whether delegations from Florida and Michigan get seats at the party’s national convention in Denver.

One scenario prepared for the Illinois senator’s campaign and released inadvertently yesterday with another document projects Obama will end up in June with 1,806 of the delegates who select the party’s nominee to 1,789 for New York Senator Hillary Clinton. That is short of the number needed to win the nomination.

Obama, speaking with reporters traveling to Omaha on his campaign plane, said he hadn’t seen the document. “I think it’s going to be close,” he said of the nomination battle. “Down to the wire.”

A candidate needs half of the total delegates plus one. Right now, that figure is 2,025. Any additional convention delegates would raise the amount needed to win nomination.

The Obama forecast doesn’t include Florida and Michigan, which were stripped of delegates by the Democratic National Committee for holding early primaries. Clinton won both uncontested and is vowing to fight for those delegates — which were slated to be a total of 366 — to be seated when the nominating convention opens on Aug. 25.

“This is only one of an infinite number of scenarios,” Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said. He added that the information was released unintentionally.

Moreover, any scenario could be altered with changing circumstances or conditions.

Another issue is the so-called super delegates, 796 Democratic officials and officeholders who aren’t bound by the results of primaries and caucuses. Obama’s campaign forecast projects less than half will be pledged to either Obama or Clinton. The rest could swing the nomination.

To my mind, the only way that Obama can pull this off is if he overwhelming wins the pledged delegate count, such that it would look really bad, and anti-democratic, for the party bosses to throw themselves behind Hillary.

I fear it’s not going to be pretty.

UPDATE:  His full analysis is a must-read, but the bottom line of Chris Bowers is this — he thinks there are three ways in which the Dem primary could end:

  • "If Obama wins non-Michigan and Florida pledged delegates by more than 100, then he will win the nomination. From that point, he will be able to dictate the rules of the convention via the credentials committee, and win.
  • If Clinton wins non-Michigan and Florida pledged delegates even by 1, then she will win the nomination. From that point, she will be able to seal the deal via super delegates and the credentials committee.
  • If, after the primaries and caucuses finish on June 7th, the pledged delegate totals are somewhere in between those two ranges, then we will probably have a brokered convention. Or, at least, there will be some sort of brokered pre-convention, involving the credentials committee and negotiations with Howard Dean."

So, in a sense, I guess my headline here is wrong.  The primaries DO matter in the sense that they predict the vantage point for what will be some heavy-duty political brokering.