Friday, June 27, 2008

No Drama Expected at Dems State Convention

No Drama Expected at Dems State Convention

The Iowa Democratic Party's state convention looks a lot less dramatic now than it did from the perspective of late April.

The primary season, after a six-week hiatus, had just kicked into high gear again with Hillary Clinton's Pennsylvania win, yet Barack Obama had math on his side. Every delegate seat was filled at Iowa's April 26 congressional district conventions, and it looked like the June 14 state convention could be a fight-to-the-death battle for some of the last available national delegates. Never before had those late in the game delegates meant so much.

But everything has changed.

In the nine weeks since Iowa Democrats gathered at the district conventions:

  • John Edwards endorsed Obama;
  • The May 31 DNC Rules and Nominations committee meeting finally settled the Florida and Michigan fight;
  • Obama mathematically clinched the nomination with a superdelegate surge on June 3; and
  • Clinton folded her campaign and endorsed Obama on June 7.

    Then the flood of 2008 postponed the convention and gave the party two more weeks to unite. Now, instead of an OK Corral showdown, the convention falls the day after presumptive nominee Barack Obama makes his first joint campaign appearance with former rival Hillary Clinton, in a town with the you-gotta be kidding-me name of Unity, New Hampshire. (As if that weren't over the top, the two actually tied in Unity in the New Hampshire primary. Try selling that as a movie script.)

    Still, the convention is the place to be Saturday for Iowa's Democratic politicos. Speeches from all the usual suspects, platform (included in the .pdf convention book) and committee fights for those who enjoy such things, and most importantly the last chance to get a ticket to Denver.

    The convention is choosing ten pledged delegates to the Denver national convention, that are proportionally divided by presidential preference. If everyone shows up and no one changes their minds, here's how the delegation looks:

    State Convention, Des Moines, June 28
    State Delegates2500
    At Large National Delegates10
     State DelegatesNational Delegates

    In addition to the pledged delegates, and one unpledged "add-on" delegate chosed by party chair Scott Brennan (who has endorsed Obama), the state convention will also elected six pledged party leader and elected official delegates, which should break down as Obama 3, Clinton 2, and Edwards 1 if everyone shows up and no one shifts.

    Of course, that's a big if.

    The Obama campaign is still making efforts to get delegates to the convention, but the urgency seems to have lightened up since Clinton's withdrawal. More attention is now focused on John McCain and the fall.

    Supporters of defeated candidates traditionally stick together in Iowa, then formally switch to the presumptive nominee after the state convention. Clinton should be viable, while Edwards is borderline. But all the numbers may shift if people decide to stay home and clean up after the flood instead.

    The biggest delegate fights will be less about "who are you for" and more about "who gets to go." A seat as a national delegate is a highly prized political plum. The nature of the Obama campaign, drawing in newcomers, and a low threshold of signatures to run, is likely to increase the number of people who try for those few seats. At the 2nd Congressional District convention, 84 people, a mix of 18 year old first-timers and grizzled political veterans with decades of party activism under their belts, ran for four Obama national delegate seats.

    Combine that with party rules that require multiple ballots and a 50 percent majority for election, with only a few candidates eliminated each ballot, and delegates are in for a long day, and night. Past state conventions have run as late as 4 a.m., with skeleton crews of friends and supporters of that candidate for that one last alternate seat trying to outlast one another.

    In the moment, those battles, and those platform speeches, can seem like high drama. But the work that shift votes in the fall will be happening in other ways, and in other places. Legislative candidates, for example, will be few and far between at the convention Saturday, as doorknocking or local fund raising events are better uses of time. The Obama campaign is launching a nationwide series of "Unite For Change" house parties on Saturday, though in deference to the convention Iowa's events are on Sunday.

    Still, the critical mass numbers of the most dedicated of the dedicated at a convention can be a catalyst. The plotting and planning, in dozens of quiet conversations during interminable waits for the next ballot, will probably be the real product of the day.
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