by James M. Wall
Following her strong 55% to 43% defeat of Bernie Sanders in the California Democratic primary Tuesday, Hillary Clinton is now within 199 delegate votes to become the first woman ever nominated as a candidate for president for a major U.S. political party.
The New York Times reported that after returns from six states in Tuesday’s elections, Clinton had 2,184 pledged delegates to Sanders’ 1,804 pledged delegates.
The total number of delegates required for the the nomination is 2,383, a majority of the 4,765 delegates who will attend the convention.
Since the 1980s, the Democratic conventions have had two classes of delegates, pledged and unpledged. As the names indicate, a pledged delegate is a man or woman who ran, and won, on behalf of a candidate in a state primary or state caucus.
Under the party’s “faithful delegate” rule, pledged delegates are required to vote for their candidate on the first ballot at the Democratic Convention which will be held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 25-28.
The unpledged delegates are party officials and leaders whose votes at the convention may go to any nominated candidate, which this year will include Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Contrary to shallow and lazy media reporting, these unpledged (“super delegates” to use a media-derived name) are announced openly in their various states. There is nothing secret about their selection. They are chosen from inside a state and include state officials and party leaders.
The only remaining secret is how they will actually vote on the first ballot.
Under Democratic party rules, unpledged delegates are also chosen to insure that each state delegation conforms to the party rules that mandate an equal number of men and women, and minority representations that conform to a percentage of those minority voters in the state.
Clinton is now so close to her required number of delegate votes that, going into the DC primary she will need the support of only 199 unpledged delegates to give her the nomination.
Most of these super delegates announced their support for Clinton early in the primary/caucus season, long before Sanders became a serious candidate. They are free to change their minds, but given Clinton’s strong delegate lead, they are unlikely to do so.
The Associated Press interviewed a number of these super delegates and found them holding to their initial support for Clinton. The AP reported that the super delegate count is currently 571 for Clinton and 47 for Sanders.
Sanders’ final, and almost futile hope, is to keep Clinton from adding at least, her necessary 199 unpledged delegates to her current delegate total. For Sanders to “flip” promissory unpledged votes relies entirely on his argument that he would be the better candidate against the Republican nominee, Donald Trump.
In her victory speech, delivered in Brooklyn Tuesday night, the near-Democratic nominee emphasized two themes for her general election campaign: Defeat Republican nominee Donald Trump, and smash a final political glass ceiling for American women.
Donald Trump now has sufficient Republican delegates to become his party’s nominee at the Republican convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 18-21.
There is no “faithful delegate” rule for Republicans, but given the fervor Trump has aroused among his supporters, faithfulness is not the problem among his delegates. There are also no mandated equal number of men and woman, nor mandated minority representation in the Republican delegations.
Trump’s problem is to gain the support of Republican party leaders, an uphill climb, thanks to Trump’s unpresidential-like tirades against minorities.
The New Republic tallied up the Republican leaders who initially and reluctantly supported Trump, only to “disassociate themselves from Trump’s line that Judge Gonzalo Curiel cannot be expected to be an impartial arbiter of the case against Trump University simply because of his Mexican ancestry”.
Paul Ryan, who officially endorsed Trump only days ago, said Trump’s remarks are “indefensible” and a “textbook case” of racism. Mitch McConnell urged Trump to drop the attacks against “various minority groups in the country” and “get on message.”
Two Republican Senators withdrew their support for Trump Tuesday: Senators Mark Kirk, of Illinois, and Lindsay Graham, of South Carolina.
In the Democratic race, Clinton’s challenger Bernie Sanders, has a different problem. His last chance to defeat Clinton lies in his ability to keep Clinton from picking up at least 199 promissory notes she has received from party officials and party leaders.
There appears to be no chance he will be able to do that.
There is a contentious history to the current set of rules that govern the Democratic nomination process. In reaction to the street-fighting experiences of the 1968 Chicago convention, the Democratic party rules slowly shifted in a progressive direction.
New rules were adopted to reduce the power of party leaders (“bosses”) to control the results. Presidential candidates chose their own delegate candidates. Party leaders rarely wanted to commit early to candidates so the party created super delegates in each state to bring them to the convention.
I live in Illinois, where the City of Chicago political machine controlled the state. When I first became active as a volunteer in politics, Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley was still one of the last powerful party “bosses”.
My job as chair of the Illinois Jimmy Carter delegation at the 1976 and the 1980 New York conventions was to recruit and manage the delegation. I was also Jimmy Carter’s liaison with Mayor Daley.
Daley died after Carter’s election and inauguration in November, 1976. It was unfortunate that he was not still with us at the 1980 New York Democratic convention.
I do not believe he would have wanted Senator Ted Kennedy to continue his campaign to the convention, lacking enough delegates to defeat the incumbent President Jimmy Carter.
Before the 1980 primary season, Kennedy gained the support of the new Chicago Mayor, Jane Byrne, who had earlier and privately pledged her support for Carter to Carter’s wife Rosalynn. That pledge came during a parade in Chicago. I already knew this was not going to happen.
Before the convention, Mayor Byrne announced her support for Kennedy. Byrne’s switch was a striking contrast to the conduct of Mayor Daley in 1976, who had thrown his considerable political weight behind the then-Georgia Governor Carter’s campaign.
That happened after Carter won the Ohio primary, a victory which persuaded Daley to stick with Carter.
Kennedy’s 1980 convention strategy was to defeat Carter by introducing a proposed change that would overturn the party’s faithful delegate rule. Carter had sufficient delegates to gain his renomination, but Kennedy stubbornly fought to overturn primary and caucus votes at the convention.
The Kennedy family mystique had considerable clout. Mayor Byrne’s forces in the Illinois delegation roamed the convention floor, as did other Kennedy supporters, pressuring Carter’s pledged delegates to vote against the President and overturn the faithful delegate rule.
Before the rule change vote on the convention floor, a young Carter Illinois delegate came to me to say he had to go against Carter and support the rule change. He told me he was a Chicago city employee. He feared for his job unless he supported Kennedy on this rules vote.
After releasing him from his commitment, I notified our Carter floor manager that we had lost one Illinois Carter vote. That delegate later voted for Carter’s nomination.
The in-fighting on convention floors can be brutal, seldom physical but always mentally stressful. One thing I have learned in my years inside convention delegations is that media representatives rarely know what is actually happening within those delegations.
The faithful delegate rule prevailed in the 1980 convention by a vote of 1,936 to retain the rule, and 1,390 to overturn the rule. Carter had 1,981 delegates, sufficient for the nomination, while Kennedy had only 1,226, Carter lost only 45 delegate votes to the Kennedy effort to scuttle the faithful delegate role. There were 122 abstentions.
I know the identity of only one Illinois Carter delegate who gave his vote to the Kennedy “stop-Carter” effort. And that vote was pre-approved.
There is no indication that Bernie Sanders would seek to change the faithful delegate rule for pledged delegates. He says his effort will focus on “flipping” unpledged delegates from the promissory notes they have previously given Clinton.
Sanders will meet with President Obama Thursday. Their discussion will most likely involve Sanders’ future role in the party, and in the general election.
Sanders has fought the good fight, but he has lost. We will hear from him and his supporters again at the convention, especially around Clinton’s choice of a vice president and the party’s platform where a stronger stand on the Middle East will be discussed.
The picture of Hillary Clinton is from the Chicago Tribune. It is by Drew Angerer/Getty Images. The picture of Donald Trump is from the New Republic. It is by Josh Edelson/Getty Images.