Democratic Party Follies

April 23, 2008

The Democratic Party’s method of selecting a presidential candidate is deeply flawed because it does not parallel the way U.S. presidents are elected. In November, each state is allocated a total of electoral votes equal to the number of congressmen and senators from that state. The total bloc of electoral votes in each state is awarded to the candidate who wins the popular vote of that state. There is no such thing as partial credit. Either a candidate gets the most votes in a state, or he or she does not. And in the winner-take-all format, for example, the Democratic Party nominiee will receive either 31 electoral votes or none from New York. So why treat each state primary or caucus like a parliamentary system where delegates are allocated proportionately according to the popular voting results? Yes, Obama has won many more states than Clinton and, yes, he has captured more votes nationally than she. But so what? Neither of those criteria settle U.S. presidential elections. The states that Obama won translate into a total electoral vote count of 202, while the electoral votes associated with states won by Clinton add up to 284, putting her incidentally over the 270 total required to get elected in November.

The Obama-versus-Clinton contest is often characterized as pitting two minority groups that have never made a realistically serious challenge for the White House. Either candidacy in November will be truly historic. Often, this thought is developed no further . Something big is going to happen either way, and that possibility will inspire considerable enthusiasm in the eventual candidate. But among voters in 2004, women actually represented 53.5%, which is a majority disguised in minority clothing, whereas African-Americans accounted for 11.1% of all ballots. Mrs. Clinton’s natural constituency is potentially much broader than Mr. Obama’s.

The primary objective of the party nominating process is to select the candidate with the best chance of victory in a general election. All possible Democratic Party candidates would presumably be preferred by the party faithful, one would think. Much continues to be said that a prolonged battle between Obama and Clinton is draining the national appeal of both, and Clinton has been under enormous pressure to step down voluntarily before further damage is done. Why Clinton? Because by the misguided rules that the party uses, she trails in the race and has the much smaller chance of securing the nomination. Clinton’s point that she has a better chance of winning in in November has validity, however. In the all-important electoral count, she not only enjoys a lead but a substantial one. Her’s is not simply the complaint of a sore loser. It is a voice of reason, especially when one considers additionally that many of the states won by Obama are those that invariably vote Republican in November, like Wyoming, Mississippi, Alaska, Utah or Kansas. The root of the Democratic Party follies lies not in the stubborness of two candidates determined to win but in inappropriate rules by which they are made to compete.


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