How the Democrats’ pri­mary process hurt Hil­lary

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Don­ald Lam­bro

It’s now vir­tu­ally cer­tain that Barack Obama will be the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee and Hil­lary Clin­ton will re­turn to her day job in the Se­nate — won­der­ing what she could have done dif­fer­ently in her ill-fated cam­paign for the White House.

Strate­gies, tac­tics and is­sues aside, Hil­lary would be the pre­sump­tive nom­i­nee to­day if her party’s pri­mary rules had in­cluded a win­ner-take-all sys­tem like the Repub­li­cans, in­stead of the “no one left be­hind” del­e­gate al­lo­ca­tion sys­tem that says the loser should not go home empty-handed.

Un­der the Democrats’ pro­por­tional sys­tem, del­e­gates are awarded among the can­di­dates in di­rect pro­por­tion to the vote each re­ceives in the con­gres­sional dis­tricts, with some por­tion based on their share of the statewide vote.

In the win­ner-take-all sys­tem, used by Repub­li­cans, the can­di­date who sweeps a state pri­mary, even by a sin­gle vote, wins all its del­e­gates, statewide and districtwide. But lib­eral Democrats are re­pulsed by what they con­sider to be an un­demo­cratic, Dar­winian, sur­vival-of-the-strong­est sys­tem that quickly elim­i­nates the weaker can­di­dates.

Peo­ple who have crunched the num­bers of the 45 or so pri­maries and cau­cuses held thus far fig­ure Hil­lary would have a 400-del­e­gate lead to­day un­der win­ner-take-all. In­stead, she was 332 del­e­gates short of the 2,025 needed to clinch the nom­i­na­tion, com­pared to Mr. Obama, who was 180 short of grab­bing the prize.

In the end, the pro­por­tional sys­tem worked against her strength in the big, del­e­ga­terich states, which she con­sis­tently car­ried, and worked for Mr. Obama who racked up his larger to­tal by win­ning in many of the smaller states.

Look­ing back, her list of big state vic­to­ries was im­pres­sive: Cal­i­for­nia, Mas­sachusetts, New Jer­sey, New York, Ohio, Penn­syl­va­nia and Texas. In a win­ner-takeall sys­tem, they would have pushed her well ahead of her ri­val. But the pro­por­tional rule that gave him his share of the vote.

This is not to say Mr. Obama did not win in some siz­able states, too. His list off 28 vic­to­ries in­cludes his home­s­tate of Illi­nois as well as Min­nesota, Mis­souri, Vir­ginia, Wis­con­sin, Wash­ing­ton state, Colorado, Con­necti­cut, North Carolina, South Carolina and Ge­or­gia.

So while the news me­dia fo­cused on big state bat­tles, he pa­tiently and qui­etly kept win­ning in a lot small states, too, from Hawaii to Delaware — rack­ing up his del­e­gate num­bers, and by im­pres­sive per­cent­ages.

A sur­vey of Mr. Obama’s stateby-state vote to­tals shows him win­ning at least 16 pri­maries by be­tween 60 per­cent and 80 per­cent mar­gins, and boost­ing his del­e­gate count pro­por­tion­ately. Out­side Arkansas, which she won by 70 per­cent, Hil­lary never broke into the 60s.

Through­out the year’s pri­mary bat­tles, I al­ways made it a habit of ask­ing Clin­ton sup­port­ers whether they be­lieved it would have been far bet­ter for their party to have switched to win­ner-take-all. The an­swer was usu­ally the same: no. The pro­por­tional sys­tem was “fairer,” it re­warded front-run­ners and sec­ond-tier can­di­dates, giv­ing them a chance to build sup­port as they be­came bet­ter known to their party, they told me.

Now, I find more and more Democrats — es­pe­cially Hil­lary’s sup­port­ers — re­gret­ting this sys­tem that pro­duced an in­ter­minable nom­i­nat­ing process that proved costly, di­vi­sive and po­lit­i­cally ex­haust­ing.

The Democrats were be­ing seen as the party that couldn’t get its act to­gether, and were strug­gling to pro­duce a nom­i­nee, while Repub­li­cans had picked their strong­est can­di­date early and were gear­ing up for their con­ven­tion and the gen­eral elec­tion to come.

For­mer White House chief of staff Leon Panetta, who sup­ports Mrs. Clin­ton, is among those who say he has changed his mind. The GOP’s win­ner-take-all is far more ef­fi­cient, fairer and bet­ter for the party over the long term, he told me.

Last week, I asked the same ques­tion of vet­eran Demo­cratic strate­gist Maria Car­dona, who also backs Hil­lary. Af­ter first say­ing she wasn’t sure, she replied, “Yes, I would go to win­ner-takeall,” rec­og­niz­ing it would have given her can­di­date a pro­hib­i­tive lead at this point.

My guess is that this is only the be­gin­ning of a par­ty­wide de­bate over the pro­por­tional sys­tem that still has its diehard sup­port­ers who ar­gue it lev­els the play­ing field some­what so lesser­known can­di­dates have a chance against bet­ter-known, bet­ter-fi­nance can­di­dates with high name recog­ni­tion.

Hil­lary had all three of those at­tributes and in the be­gin­ning ap­peared to be the likely nom­i­nee who would sweep the early con­tests and wrap up the nom­i­na­tion by Fe­bru­ary.

But in the end, Mr. Obama was helped by the pro­por­tional del­e­gate sys­tem that re­warded him even in states that he “lost” as well as in the nearly 30 states he won in the South, West, Mid­west and parts of the North­east.

For now, it ap­pears the losers want to switch to win­ner-take-all and the win­ners think the present sys­tem is as good as it gets.

Don­ald Lam­bro, chief po­lit­i­cal correspondent of The Wash­ing­ton Times, is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.