Early in the race, Republicans appeared headed to a brokered convention. GOP primary voters couldn't decide on a front-runner, and it looked like three or even four candidates could make it to the national convention with significant numbers of delegates, touching off a floor fight. It would have been 1976 all over again -- the convention that nominated Gerald Ford and left the Republicans flat.
Now, however, it's the Democrats who appear to be headed to a 1976 scenario instead. Chris Bowers at Open Left describes the problem accurately:
The polling picture for Super Tuesday is starting to fill out now. With only 34 hours until polls close in California, it appears virtually certain that we will have a split decision in terms of delegates. Currently, by multiplying the average polling margin by the number of delegates in each state, I arrive at an estimate of Clinton 889 delegates, Obama 799 pledged delegates earned from Super Tuesday itself. However, in virtually every state, more recent polls show better results for Obama, which should improve his standing almost across the board. At this point, a 90-delegate victory for Clinton on Super Tuesday is probably her best-case scenario, and the margin should less than 50 delegates in either direction. A narrow Obama victory on Super Tuesday is even within his reach now.
This one is going beyond Super Tuesday, folks. With only 22 states, D.C., Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands left to vote after Super Tuesday, one has to wonder if it is possible for the deadlock to be broken before the convention. Even though Clinton will probably lead by 100 or so delegates after Super Tuesday, the February schedule favors Obama. As such, with only 3,253 pledged delegates, and 2,025 needed to win, it no longer seems possible for either candidate to win without the assistance of at least some of the 796 super delegates. Consequently, it is probably time to start discussing the most democratic way to break the deadlock, such as measuring the measuring the overall popular vote or pledged delegate totals, and urging super delegates to line up behind the candidate who leads according to that metric. A situation like this makes problems such as caucuses not counting popular votes, as well as the Michigan and Florida situations, far more severe and troubling. In short, it looks like we have a real mess on our hands now.
Indeed, and Bowers doesn't mention the real nightmare scenario. Hillary Clinton has had an edge in the superdelegates, both in number and in influence. These superdelegates represent the party establishment, which owes a lot to the Clintons over the last 16 years. The two have won elections for the party establishment and raised a lot of money, something Barack Obama has hardly had a chance to do until just recently.
What happens if Obama comes to the convention -- and Hillary beats him with the superdelegates?
It could create a huge firestorm in Denver that could consume the party's oxygen for the next several years. The African-American vote would see this as a stolen nomination and could walk away from the Democrats. Rank-and-file voters, especially those who supported Obama's call for change in politics, would likely see this as smoke-filled-room maneuvering -- which is exactly what it would be. The bitterness would extend to the House and Senate members of the superdelegate assembly who backed Clinton over Obama, and it could threaten the Democrats' down-ticket races as well as their presidential election chances.
Under that scenario, would Hillary follow Bowers' suggestion and push the superdelegates to support Obama and concede power? Or will Hillary and Bill lean heavily on them, call in their chits, and fracture the party on the chance that they could unite it afterwards? Given the Clintonian attraction to power, I'd call the latter scenario a lot more likely.