By Jim Ellis
April 11, 2019 — One of the most interesting facets of the Democratic presidential nomination process sounds mundane, but it may be more telling than any single campaign factor.
The primary/caucus schedule will in many ways determine if the party can coalesce behind one candidate before the Democratic delegates convene in Milwaukee during mid-July, or if they’ll be headed to a contested convention featuring several roll calls.
To win the nomination a candidate must either garner majority support on the first ballot (1,885 votes from a field of 3,768 elected delegates) or from among the full complement of 4,532 Democratic delegates on subsequent roll calls when the 764 Super Delegates are eligible to vote.
Joining the early mix, meaning the states that will vote on or before March 17, 2020, is Washington state, which has moved their nomination event. Additionally, over just this past weekend, the Washington Democrats passed a new party rule that transforms the previous delegate-apportioning caucus into a statewide primary. Previously, the state featured both apparatuses, with the caucus attenders selecting the delegates while the primary was no more than a political beauty contest.
If all states follow through with the early schedule projection, and today it appears they will, 69 percent of the first ballot delegate votes will be locked when primaries and caucuses conclude on March 17. In all voting entities, statute bounds the first ballot votes in proportional accordance to how the state or territory’s electorate voted in the delegate-apportioning primary or caucus. Therefore, on the evening of March 17, it will likely become clear if one candidate will have the possibility of forming a majority coalition on the first ballot or whether a contested convention will emerge.
From March 17 through June 16, less than one-third of the first-ballot delegates will be available, featuring only three large states, those with more than 100 first-ballot delegates: New York (224), Pennsylvania (153), and New Jersey (107). Currently, the New York vote is targeted for April 21 with Pennsylvania a week later on April 28. New Jersey Democrats will vote in a June 2 primary.
The schedule could cause the Democrats a rather major problem if they appear headed for a contested convention after the March 17 election date. With the national convention not beginning until July 13, they could be staring at a projected deadlocked nomination process for a difficult four-month period should several candidates be in a mathematical position to win.
Therefore, if no candidate has a substantial lead after March 17, the Democrats will be forced to prepare for what could become a nasty national convention fight for the first time in generations. The last time either major party convention required more than one ballot to choose a nominee occurred at the Democratic National Convention in 1952 when Adlai Stevenson won the party nomination on the third ballot and would proceed to lose decisively to then-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower in the subsequent general election.
Under both parties’ rules, only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina may hold a nominating event prior to March 1, 2020. But, in the coming cycle, California will tangentially join that mix.
The Golden State has already moved its primary to March 3, which will become the 2020 election cycle’s “Super Tuesday”, but state law requires early voting to begin 29 days before that date. Therefore, California Democrats will be eligible to begin voting on Feb. 3, the same day as the Iowa Caucus — the first voting event.
Though some of the states have not yet officially chosen a primary or caucus voting schedule, it appears evident that the calendar will be front-loaded. With a potential of 22 or 23 candidates (18 have now officially joined the race) it becomes difficult to see any contender reaching 50 percent on the first ballot, particularly when the Democrats no longer allow “winner take all” primaries or caucuses and free-agent Super Delegates cannot join together until later in the convention to help put someone over the top.
The Democratic rule changes and voting schedule and their large number of viable candidates could well create a political convention the likes of which we haven’t seen in the modern political era. Therefore, the latter part of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020 will provide us major clues as to how a potentially historic Democratic convention may unfold in July.