Saturday, February 23, 2008

Caucuses are multi-stage events

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at

We're all learning a whole lot about the way Democratic Party picks its delegates to the national convention, and one big thing we've learned is that early caucuses such as in Iowa and Nevada are just the first stage in the process. In Iowa, the 14 estimated delegates John Edwards won will be scattered to the other candidates in the next stages.

And in Nevada, the candidates are looking to hold serve as the County Conventions are being held today:

The first test to keep those national delegates is in Nevada on Saturday, when nearly 11,000 county delegates are due to report to 17 county conventions. The national media and the big campaign operations have long since abandoned the state. Yet a handful of staffers and a network of supporters are left to ensure that delegates elected last month stick with the campaigns until the deal is done.
Karen Hicks, a senior adviser to the Clinton campaign, said the goal is to "protect the delegates we've earned." However, she added, "We will try to maximize every single chance we get to pick up delegates."
In Nevada, precinct caucuses were held Jan. 19 to select delegates to county conventions this weekend. The county conventions will select delegates to the state convention in May. The national delegates are elected at the state convention — the third step of the process. If all the delegates for each candidate show up at every step, the national delegates awarded Jan. 19 will remain unchanged.

In Nevada, Obama won 13 delegates and Clinton won 12. But if one side is unable to rally its supporters at any step along the way, it risks losing national delegates, much like Gary Hart did in 1984.

Hart fared well in initial party caucuses when he ran for the Democratic nomination in 1984, only to see some of those delegates go to Walter Mondale at the state conventions, said Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist who counted delegates for Mondale. Mondale went on to win the nomination before losing badly in the general election to Ronald Reagan. "If you're Gary Hart, you might say they got stolen," Devine said. "The fact is our campaign recognized that the first tier of the caucus process was not the end, it was the beginning."
Clark County, Nev., convention chair Bill Stanley said the party is trying to minimize delegate poaching by opening the pool of possible alternates to any Democrat who participated in a precinct caucus and attends a county convention. "At the end of the day, what we hope to do is maintain the same amount of the delegates for each candidate as were reflected out of the precinct caucuses," Stanley said.

Still, the situation is ripe for convention-floor horse trading. Nearly 440 county delegates awarded to former candidates John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich are up for grabs, along with a handful of uncommitted delegates.

There was a bit of controversy last week about delegate poaching - convincing pledged delegates of one candidate to vote for the other candidate at the convention. (Remember, pledged delegates are NOT bound to vote for the candidate they were pledged for). But to me, trying to gain a delegate here or there at these mid-level conventions is just good organizational politics, especially if it means trying to get delegates from departed candidates over to your side.

We'll update this post when results from Nevada are available.

Update: Chaos in Las Vegas:

The Clark County Democratic convention has devolved into chaos as party leaders try to juggle an unexpectedly large turnout with strict party rules for picking delegates.

More than 8,000 people showed up at Bally's Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas, causing the fire marshal to shutdown a ballroom. Party leaders say delegates entitled to participate were shutout and may not get the chance to support their candidate.

Representatives of the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns, along with party leaders, say they think the convention should recess and reconvene later at a later date.

The idea was loudly rejected by the room of rowdy Democrats. It is not immediately clear how party leaders plan to resolve the issue.

Update 2: The Clark County convention wrapped around 4 p.m., after supporters from both campaigns voted to suspend the presidential delegate vote. No idea what happens next.


iwuzsailor said...

OMG we might be facing a similar situation here in Wa State. We have our Legislative district/county caucus on Apr 5 as step 2 of a 3 step process similar to NV. Gonna be interesting to be a player as I am an elected legislative delegate.


Anonymous said...

One very amusing story out of Clark County, they found a box of ballots in one of the restrooms in Bally's.

The Washoe County Convention went much better.