Hillary's Plan to Win Relies on Improbable Finale at DNC Convention
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There are two ways Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) can win the Democratic nomination.
Most of the national press and pundits say she has to win by 20 percent or more in Pennsylvania's Primary on Tuesday and keep beating Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) by that margin to get enough delegates to become the nominee.
Or there is another scenario that has not been on the political radar but was raised by several well-connected supporters at her rally in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on Sunday: she could go into a deadlocked convention and persuade just enough Obama delegates to switch and vote for her.
"Are you a student of history," said Pennsylvania State Rep. Richard T. Grucela, who represents the 137th state assembly district, when asked how Clinton could win the nomination when Obama is now leading by 139 delegates before Tuesday's Primary. "If they are deadlocked on the first ballot, the delegates will be released from their pledges on later votes."
Grucela turned to another party member, on the state Democratic Party's credentials committee, who said the same thing: if neither candidate gets enough delegates to win in the first floor vote at the Democratic National Convention, then every delegate would be free to vote for anyone -- not bound by their state's vote.
"The Hillary camp really believes they can convince everybody that she is the best candidate to face McCain -- and she is," said Scott Plavner, a Philadelphia banker and longtime Democratic donor, speaking of the strategy for the Denver convention in late August.
Plavner not only said pledged delegates would be free to vote for whoever they wanted, but he said the Clinton campaign could offer carrots to would-be supporters from Obama's ranks, such as input into the party platform or other inducements. In past races, the nominee's campaign has often given key posts to their competitor's supporters as a way to head into a general election.
The bottom line, Plavner said, was Clinton had a strong case to make she was best able to beat Sen. John McCain, (R-AZ), the Republican nominee, because she has won most big state primaries. "She'll win those states. She'll win Arkansas. She will win Florida. That's the election," he said. "With Obama, he's won the red states."
Neither campaign returned phone calls or e-mails to comment on Monday.
However, the scenario of Clinton campaigning through the convention and then seeking to persuade just enough Obama delegates to join her is not theoretically impossible.
First, Sen. Clinton continues to say she has a path to victory.
On Sunday, she told The Philadelphia Inquirer , "I have carried the states that a Democrat must carry in order to win in November. If you look at the electoral map, anything is possible, but it is more likely that the coalition I have put together is the winning coalition."
Meanwhile, her senior staff keeps making the same claim although neither she nor they offer any details on the mechanics of such a victory.
"We think we are in a strong position to make the affirmative argument why we are the best nominee going forward," Deputy Spokesman Phil Singer said in a media conference call on Monday.
"The people who are more likely to be swing voters are the people who Sen. Obama has had great difficulty with -- white blue-collar voters -- non-college educated voters who move from one side of the aisle to the other," Chief Strategist Geoff Garin, said on the same call.
Singer said super-delegates -- the federal and state elected officials and luminaries comprising one-fifth of the voting delegates -- "are watching" Obama make mistakes and "down-ballot races" are being affected.
These comments obviously are intended to sow doubts about Obama in the media, but they also are to persuade reporters that the Democratic contest will continue -- although they omit saying exactly how Clinton will win.
Still, the delegate math -- from outside observers -- suggests the race could continue to Denver if neither candidate has the 2,024 delegates needed to win by the last primaries, in Montana and South Dakota on June 3.
According to the Democratic Convention Watch blog, before Tuesday's vote, Obama was leading Clinton by 139 delegates. Obama has 1,647 delegates while Clinton has 1,508 delegates. Former Sen. John Edwards has 18 delegates and there are 874 delegates yet to be awarded, including 188 in Pennsylvania.
Most pundits do not think Clinton will catch Obama in the delegates awarded by the remaining primary and caucuses because she will not carry those states by big enough margins. Even if Clinton wins Pennsylvania by 10 percentage points, she will only cut into Obama's lead by 20 or so delegates. Meanwhile, he is expected to win in North Carolina, with 134 delegates, on May 6, and Indiana, with 84 delegates, also on May 6, is expected to be close. These scenarios suggest Clinton will not overtake Obama's lead.
Thus, unless uncommitted super delegates declare their intentions after the June 3 primary, then it is very possible the contest could continue to the Democratic Convention. While some party leaders, like Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean would protest that delay, party powerhouses such as Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, Clinton's biggest supporter in Pennsylvania, would likely support that strategy.
The Clinton supporters in Bethlehem were all quite comfortable with taking the fight to the convention floor. They said the party's rules would allow their campaign to try to persuade Obama delegates to desert their candidate and support Clinton as the nominee.
"It's funny," Plavner, the Philadelphia banker said. "They (the Obama camp) are running it like a basketball game where they say 'We are ahead, so let's quit.' We have to run it until it is over. How many basketball games are over in the last seconds?"
The Party Rules
Natalie Wyeth, Democratic National Convention Committee Press Secretary, said the party's rules do not permanently bind delegates to their candidate, but the delegates are asked to sign pledges to represent and respect the "sentiments" of the voters.
"Pledged delegates are not bound to vote for the candidate they are pledged to at the Convention or on the first ballot," Wyeth said in an e-mail that she later said was carefully prepared by party officials.
"A pledged delegate goes to the Convention with a signed pledge of support for a particular presidential candidate. At the Convention, while it is assumed that delegates will cast their votes for the candidate they are publicly pledged to, it is not required. Under the Delegate Selection Rules, a delegate is asked to "in good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them." This provision is designed in part to make the Convention a deliberative body."
Wyeth said the scenario laid out in Bethlehem was plausible -- that Obama delegates could vote for Clinton, if they chose to do so.
"Delegates are not legally 'bound' to vote for the candidate they were elected to represent," she said the prepared statement. "They can, and have in the past, cast a vote for another presidential candidate at the Convention. As a sign of good faith, most former candidates have 'released' their delegates from voting for them; however, this is not required, and only has a symbolic meaning. Delegates can vote for another presidential candidate with or without being 'released.'"
The Democratic National Convention launched a new website on Monday, posting these and other rules for their event at www.demconvention.com. Wyeth said the last time the presidential nomination required more than one ballot was 1952 in Chicago.
"Eleven names were placed in nomination in a heated contest between Adlai Stevenson, Estes Kefauver, Richard Russell, Averell Harriman and Paul Dever," she said. "Adlai Stevenson became the nominee on the third ballot with 617 votes."
Steven Rosenfeld is a senior fellow at Alternet.org and co-author of " What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election ," with Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman (The New Press, 2006).