Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 5, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

BROKERED CONVENTION?....Tom Spencer reprinted a Gene Lyons column today that contained an interesting factoid about how the Democratic primaries are going to work:

What hasn't yet sunk in among journalists covering the race is the likely impact of the amazingly complicated rule changes the party has imposed on itself for 2004 in the interest of "fairness." Massive confusion appears likelier. There are no winner-take-all primaries. Instead, delegates will be awarded proportionally to all candidates receiving more than 15 percent of the vote in each congressional district, from sea to shining sea.

Now, this is old news to political animals, I'm sure, but it's new news to me, and what it means is that every single congressional district is a separate race. Even if you poll a mere 1% of the vote in a given state, if you poll 15% in a couple of districts you'll get a few delegates. This means that minor candidates are likely to get a few percent of the delegates even if they never manage to break the 15% barrier in a single state.

As Lyons points out, the reason this matters is that it makes a brokered convention more likely. I've been discounting this possibility myself, but mostly based on the lazy reasoning that it hasn't happened for 50 years, so it's probably not going to happen this year either.

But this rule change, combined with a shortened primary season that prevents candidates from building momentum slowly and then dominating the big final primaries, might very well produce a convention where no one has a majority of the delegates going in. After all, within a mere six weeks of New Hampshire we have the massive March 2 "Super Tuesday" that includes New York, California, Massachussetts, Georgia, and Ohio. Virtually the entire game will be played out in those six weeks.

I think I still have to bet against this scenario, but understanding this rule change makes me a little less sure of myself. And that brings up an interesting question that no one has been asking so far: in a brokered convention, which candidate would be in the best position? Endorsements and party insider support are traditionally just window dressing that don't translate into votes, but they might very well translate into convention support. And my first guess is that this would favor John Kerry.

Gotta think about this a bit more.

Kevin Drum 11:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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