July 5, 2007


In preparing for a project for Oval Office 2008, I've been looking not only at the schedule of primary elections but also the way that the primaries are set up. It's quite messy.

Lots of states still have caucuses, where people declare their preference for one candidate or another, and then they get appointed as local delegates to county conventions, and then some of those delegates are picked to go to regional conventions, and then the regional conventions pick people go be delgates to the state convention, and the state convention picks who the delegates are.

The Democrats have lots of "superdelegates," it looks like about 850 this cycle, who are prominent officehlders themselves, or people who are responsible for moving big party machinery. The Republicans have nothing quite like the "superdelegates," but they do allocate delegates who can be named by prominent officeholders, and party apparatchiks get to be delegates themselves.

Some of the states that pick delegates directly by primary elections have staggered systems -- a portion of the delegates are awarded to the at-large winner and a portion to winners of various districts (often, but not always Congressional districts) and there seems to be a trend in both parties for giving extra seats to those states, and those districts within the states, that have provided support for the party in the past. This is the case for both the Democrat-style proportional primaries and for the Republican-style winner-take-all primaries -- "winner-take-all" is broken down by district and not all the state's at-large delegate seats are up for grabs for the plurality winner.

Both parties have lots of reserves on their delegate columns for party bosses to either hold themselves or to pass out to minions.

This all suggests to me that not only are the delegates activists, they are also skewed away from the political center. Not all, of course, but the rules suggest that the popular, trustworthy, and ideologically reliable sorts make the best delegates. Which sort of makes sense when you think about it. Is this the way it should be? Hard to say -- but it does suggest that the days of the smoke-filled room where deals are cut are actually not as far away as we might think. This will become obvious if the Republican convention is brokered (as looks more and more likely) but of course we can only wait and see.

No comments: