Democratic Delegate Count

February 26, 2008

For weeks commentators have been talking about the close delegate count between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But anyone looking at the Democratic Party’s rules for delegates probably would have predicted such a situation. In fact you could say that Barack Obama’s sizable delegate count is due to a decision forced on the party 20 years ago by Jesse Jackson.

Columnist Ruth Marcus writes: “The stage was set for the current stalemate over five marathon days of negotiations in June 1988. In the fifth-floor conference room of a Washington law firm, representatives of Michael Dukakis, the party’s nominee, and Jesse Jackson, his unsuccessful challenger, hashed out a new set of delegate selection rules.” Jackson was upset that he did not have as many delegates as his popular vote would have indicated.

Jesse Jackson’s assistant was Harold M. Ickes. He argued for “proportional representation rules that would award insurgent candidates a bigger share of delegates in future contests.” Twenty years later, the rules Ickes proposed have been working against his friend, Hillary Clinton. She has won delegate-rich states like New York, New Jersey, and California. But Barack Obama has managed to stay close in those contests and pick up delegates in other contests to take the lead.

The Democratic rules give lots of weight to the losing candidate. Under the rules, three-fourths of the pledged delegates are allocated by congressional district, the remaining one-quarter according to the vote statewide. In California Hillary Clinton won 43 of the state’s 53 congressional districts but only received 207 delegates to Obama’s 163. If the Democrats used the Republican rules, Hillary Clinton would have received 316 delegates. Barack Obama would have received just 54.

It is quite possible that both parties will revisit their delegate rules in the next few years. The Democrats’ rules hurt Hillary Clinton and the Republicans’ rules helped John McCain. Now that we have seen the results, it’s time for the parties to reconsider their rules.

©2008 Probe Ministries