Winning By LosingAs I predicted some months ago, Barack Obama effectively won the Democratic nomination last night, but did so stumbling across the finish line rather than racing across right ahead. Obama is a precariously weak nominee. Indeed, had the Democratic delegate allocation system resembled anything like the Republican one, Hillary Clinton would have clinched the nomination three months ago.
This primary cycle has exposed both the strengths and the weaknesses of each party's delegate allocation system. The Democratic system is frought with problems, because the party has nominated a candidate who clinched the nomination by winning caucuses with voters less likely to turn out in the fall (18-24 year olds and other young college-types), but far more so by using his party's proportional system to "win from losing," picking up large swaths of delegates even in States that he lost. In winning he lost yet another State last night-South Dakota.
The Republican system of nomination is also seriously flawed. Yes, it allowed the Republicans the opportunity to get someone nominated months ahead of the party opposite and exercise a potential advantage. However, John McCain is not the choice of his party-he won by finishing first in a three-way race in several States which awarded delegates on a winner-take-all bases, or on a winner-take-all by district basis. A majority of Republicans on Super Tuesday and in the contests before that day voted against McCain and for someone else, and those voters went unrepresented in the process.
That is one of the biggest reasons I favor a caucus-only system for nominating candidates, because those voters who care enough to show up for a caucus ought to have the biggest say. Further, the press should refrain from "calling" the nomination for any candidate under that system prior to a political party's national convention. Under such a system, neither party could complain about the other getting a head start because there would be no starting a General Election campaign prior to the conventions. Not that this would ever actually happen-but it should.
Since Barack Obama has won enough delegates on paper to win the Democratic nomination, what does Hillary Clinton do now? Apparently nothing just yet:
"Now given how far we’ve come and where we need to go as a party, it’s a question
I don’t take lightly. This has been a long campaign, and I will be making no
decisions tonight.” But what other decision can she make? Her speech, which came
after the networks declared Obama the presumptive nominee, seemed akin to the
losing football team remaining on the field after the game is already over and
celebrating with its fans.
Some of Hillary's supporters were shouting "Denver, Denver" last night. If she does go to Denver without bowing, it will be a long convention for the Democrats. There are those who would like Hillary to be Obama's Number 2, but is that really a good idea?:
“Like her husband, Mrs. Clinton has a way of becoming the center of
attention even when the spotlight is supposed to be trained elsewhere.” That
reality might make the prospect of her becoming Obama’s running mate more
difficult than some of her supporters realize.
Normally, candidates should never choose a running mate that could outshine them. When they do, the running mate becomes more popular than the candidate. A few prime examples of this would be Bob Dole in 1976 (Gerald Ford), Lloyd Bentsen in 1988 (Michael Dukakis), and John Edwards in 2004 (John Kerry). Barack Obama would have one consolation in choosing his rival as a running mate: John McCain may be forced to pick an equally popular running mate of his own to placate the conservative base of the GOP.