How the Democratic nominating battle could end in a messy 'brokered
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[February 28, 2020]
By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) - Seemingly every four years,
political pundits speculate about a "brokered" U.S. presidential
convention - only to see a nominee selected with little or no drama. But
that may not be the case in 2020.
With the field of Democratic contenders deeply fragmented ahead of the
all-important Super Tuesday contests in 14 states on March 3, chances
are growing that no contender will amass the majority of delegates
needed to clinch the nomination outright.
PredictIt, one of the most active markets taking bets on U.S. politics,
on Thursday implied a better-than-even chance that neither Senator
Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the national-front-runner, nor his rivals
will secure the minimum 1,991 delegates needed to win the nomination on
the first ballot at this July's convention in Milwaukee.
Failure to secure a first-ballot win could result in a "brokered
convention," in which candidates and party leaders engage in horse
trading to try to gain a majority of delegates on subsequent ballots.
No Republican or Democratic convention has gone beyond a single ballot
But the rise of Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, has
prompted Democratic Party leaders to consider whether his nomination
would do more damage than a chaotic battle at July's convention in
Here's how the nominating process works – and why it could evolve into a
What's the "simple" way of capturing the nomination?
The easiest way to secure the nomination at the convention is to earn a
majority of votes on the first ballot from the thousands of "pledged
delegates" who will be awarded through the primary process.
Unlike Republicans, who award delegates in some states on a
winner-take-all basis, all Democratic delegates are allocated
proportionately. Generally speaking, the higher a candidate's support,
the more delegates collected, as long as he or she gets at least 15
percent of the vote.
The proportional system makes it more difficult for any one candidate in
a crowded field to capture an outright majority of delegates.
Take New Hampshire's primary earlier this month. Sanders narrowly
defeated former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the popular
vote, 25.7% to 24.4%, while Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota finished
with 19.8%. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former Vice
President Joe Biden gained 9.2% and 8.4%, respectively.
Because Warren and Biden failed to hit 15% statewide or in either of the
state's two congressional districts, they earned no delegates.
The top three divided up the 24 available pledged delegates, with
Sanders and Buttigieg getting nine each – 37.5% percent, significantly
higher than their popular vote percentage – and Klobuchar receiving six.
What happens if no candidate has a majority?
The convention's first ballot will include only the nearly 4,000 pledged
[to top of second column]
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders
rallies with supporters at Winston-Salem State University in
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, U.S., February 27, 2020.
If no candidate gets a majority, the convention would hold a second
ballot, which would expand to include nearly 800 so-called "superdelegates"
– Democratic U.S. representatives and senators, Democratic
governors, Democratic National Committee (DNC) members and important
party figures such as former presidents.
In 2016, when superdelegates overwhelmingly endorsed eventual
nominee Hillary Clinton, Sanders supporters argued the system was
unfair since those superdelegates were allowed to vote on the first
As a result, the DNC instituted new rules for this year, backed by
Sanders, that prevent superdelegates from participating in the
After each ballot, delegates are free to switch to other candidates,
raising the likelihood that different contenders would seek to
horse-trade their way to a majority. The party would hold as many
ballots as needed to reach a majority of the nearly 4,800 pledged
delegates and superdelegates.
Notably, the delegates can nominate anyone, even individuals who did
not campaign for president - such as former first lady Michelle
Obama, just to pick one extremely unlikely scenario.
Some Democrats have warned a brokered convention could tear the
party apart, particularly if by July Sanders has the largest number
of delegates but does not get the nomination.
Is a brokered convention inevitable if no one secures a majority?
Not necessarily. Pledged delegates are technically free to vote for
any candidate on the first ballot, and candidates who either drop
out or have little hope might encourage their supporters to back
If, for instance, both Sanders and Biden had around 40% of the
delegates, lower-tier candidates might decide to ask their delegates
to vote for one or the other weeks before the convention.
How is this all playing out on the campaign trail?
Sanders has said the candidate with the most delegates should get
the nomination, since that best reflects the will of the people.
But as rival Senator Elizabeth Warren pointed out during a CNN town
hall on Wednesday, Sanders himself said the opposite in 2016, when
Clinton held a majority of pledged delegates. At the time, he argued
superdelegate support could still clinch the party's nod for him at
Warren said she would fight until the convention even if she trails
"Bernie had a big hand in writing these rules," she said. "I didn't
(This story fixes typographical error in the second paragraph to
make it "field" instead of "filed")
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Soyoung Kim and Jonathan Oatis)
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