The Democratic primary this past year has already been must-watch TV. Since the first votes were counted on February 3rd (or the 4th, if we want to count actual results), the primaries have had twists, turns, and the best two debates since the ones in the summer. This comes from certain candidates trying to get themselves on the front pages to try and save their dying campaigns (Amy, Steyer, Liz, and yes you too Biden), those attacking the new billionaire on the stage in Michael Bloomberg (Bernie, Pete, and Liz again), and those trying to throw dirt on the newest frontrunner in the race, Bernie Sanders.
The question to me is whether it will all matter in the end. With the stubbornness of these remaining frontrunners and the way the Democrats run their primary system, it seems like we are heading to our first true contested convention since the mess known as Chicago ’68. This outcome should have always been a possibility, but why has it become one of the more likely outcomes in 2020?
The mess known as Iowa
There is no mincing of words here: the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses were an utter and complete mess. While this caused renewed calls for the end of the caucuses, the fact the Iowa Democratic Party decided to employ an unknown app that had never been properly tested seemed to be the larger issue rather than the actual caucus system itself. Importantly, the issues that occured did have long lasting effects on the race as a whole. Since there was no knowledge of the actual and accurate results until the weekend and Pete Buttigieg had been given the most amount of delegates, no one significant could truly make the decision to drop out.
The biggest of the group to me was Amy Klobuchar. Iowa should’ve been a bread and butter state for the Senator from Minnesota, but in the end she finished 5th on the night and could’ve dropped out or at least taken a hit in any remaining momentum she had, if the story had not been about all the issues that occurred on the night. Instead, Klobuchar kept any momentum she had, grew it with a very good debate performance, and came third with 19.7% of the vote in New Hampshire.
If the Iowa results were counted properly and on the night that the caucuses actually occurred, I do not believe the eventual “Klobucharge” would have happened. Candidates like Elizabeth Warren or even Pete Buttigieg would get more support as Amy finishes another disappointing 5th and likely ends her campaign, taking out one of the first “big name” candidates in the race. In fact Amy’s good performance could have easily cost Pete Buttigieg another victory over Bernie Sanders, as he lost by less than 4,000 votes to the Vermont Senator in New Hampshire. That could have led to Pete having carried the first two states and he may have the momentum to perform better in Nevada and become an actual frontrunner.
No “Winner Take Alls”
In the Republican primary, not all states give their delegates proportionally. A good amount of them reward all of them to the winner of the state, whether by a majority or by a plurality. This dynamic was one of the key reasons why Donald Trump was able to keep and grow his frontrunner moniker throughout the race, with South Carolina’s winner take-all-style giving him all 50 delegates from the state with only 32.5% of the vote. This resulted in a 65 delegate lead on Ted Cruz before Super Tuesday had even begun.
To be fair, Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada allocate their delegates proportionally on the GOP side as well, but if the Democrats had a couple winner-take-all states, it could really clear up the path for someone to take over the race if the 54 pledged delegates were awarded to the winner of the state. With Biden’s huge 48.8% victory in South Carolina, for example, this could have been the point where he gets all 54 of those delegates after destroying the competition in every single congressional district. But no, instead Biden will end up with only 33 pledged delegates, and even though Bernie Sanders finished nearly 30 points behind he will still get 11 delegates from the state. Even with what should be a campaign changing victory, Biden will join Super Tuesday still eight delegates behind Sanders. Nothing is certain going into Super Tuesday and many of the states will not have any dominating wins like Biden had Saturday. Without any “winner-take-all” moments, the likelihood of a contested convention will become ever more possible.
Getting rid of the Superdelegates
The superdelegates were one of the most controversial aspects of the Democratic primaries in 2016. Supporters of Bernie Sanders in 2016 blamed the superdelegates for their candidate’s defeat, even though Hillary Clinton would have won the nomination outright anyways. The controversy the issue caused did lead to some rule changes going into 2020 though, as superdelegates are now held to second ballot status only if there is a contested convention after the first ballot. The way it’s going, it certainly seems more and more likely that they could be used in the end. Moving them to the background may have led to this situation anyways, as now party figures have no way of picking the favored candidate.
While Hillary Clinton would have won without them, the support of most of the superdelegates allowed there to be momentum given to the Clinton campaign, as it always looked like she was in the lead. Getting rid of that ability hurts candidates like Joe Biden, who still has the most congressional endorsements of any candidate and would likely have the backing of the old party guard. If he was shown to have a lead from the start, Biden could have all the momentum right now and be the clear frontrunner he was hyped up to be. Without them on the first ballot though, it makes it hard for candidates to split themselves off from the pack early on and leaves the party with multiple viable candidates going into Super Tuesday.
How this could end
It seems more and more likely that there will be a contested convention in Milwaukee in 2020. While Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden have leads in most of the Super Tuesday states, not many of them are big leads or ones that will get them most of the delegates and begin splitting the field. Going into Super Tuesday, I don’t think that widening of the field will happen, and the Democrats will begin their march towards a contested convention. It should be said though, that they were the cause of this. It wasn’t the voters and it wasn’t the candidates – it was the party trying too hard to cater to many different people at the same time.