By Jim Ellis
May 13, 2019 — The Hill newspaper ran a pair of articles late last week that discussed several points about the upcoming Democratic presidential nomination battle. The first piece was a story covering former Vice President Joe Biden’s prediction that many of the candidates will drop out of the race soon after the Iowa Caucus, thus winnowing the 22-person (and possibly as high as 24) contest down to a more manageable number.The second piece delved into the new Super Delegate status, and about their re-emergence if the convention lapses into a multiple ballot situation before choosing a nominee. The story also highlighted several candidates, and in particular Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who are already reaching out to Super Delegates in an attempt to identify which candidate they might support if presented with the chance to vote.
The Biden comments reflect a traditional view that one candidate may begin to build an early consensus by doing well in the first two voting events, the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primary. Currently, these are scheduled for Feb. 3 and Feb. 11, 2020, respectively.
The flaw in the Biden argument is that, combined, Iowa and New Hampshire only carry 65 first-ballot delegates, less than two percent of the entire first-ballot universe of 3,768. A candidate must obtain 1,885 delegate votes to win the nomination on the first ballot. Therefore, such a small early number is unlikely to be determinative, but the lowest tier of candidates, as fallout from the first votes actually being cast, collapsing due to a lack of funding is certainly a possibility.
The Super Delegates were a source of major controversy at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. At the time, the Sanders campaign contended that the nomination process was “rigged” because the non-elected Super Delegates were a block for Hillary Clinton, which would enable her to win the nomination even if Sanders forged a majority among the elected delegates. In the end, the Sanders’ supposition proved untrue – Clinton did win among the elected delegates – but, nevertheless, the Democratic National Committee changed the Super Delegates’ voting status as a result of the Sanders’ complaint.
Now, the 764 Super Delegates have no first-ballot vote, but will have full, “unbounded” voting power on subsequent roll calls if needed. The term “unbounded” refers to these special delegates not being governed by any particular state law that requires a delegation to vote a certain way depending upon positions voters take in the primary or caucus. Simply put, the Super Delegates are free agents.
The 764 Super Delegates are comprised of 430 members of the Democratic National Committee, the 47 Democratic US Senators, 239 Democratic US House members (this number will increase if a Democrat wins any of the current three special congressional elections), the 26 governors, and 22 Distinguished Party Leaders.
(The 47 senators incorporate two “Shadow Senators” from Washington, DC, but do not include the two Independents who caucus with the Democrats: Sens. Angus King (I-ME) and Bernie Sanders, himself. The US House and governor categories are larger than the current number reported from the states because the territory representatives and their chief executives are included. The Distinguished Party Leader category features the former Democratic presidents and vice presidents, the ex-congressional leaders, and the previous Democratic National Committee chairs.)
The DNC members are elected at the various state conventions and are often state and local party leaders. But, according to The Hill, the Sanders campaign never stopped building after the 2016 election and began to elect their own people to state Democratic Party leadership positions that would make them DNC members. The Hill also indicates that Mayor Pete Buttigieg is beginning to organize among the Super Delegates in anticipation of a multi-ballot convention.
Therefore, the oft-stated premise that a second ballot vote would favor Biden because the Super Delegates would ban together to put him over the top may not be so easily attained.
With all of this early action now proceeding, it is apparent that the political “game within the game” is already well underway.