Monday, February 10, 2020




          The March 3 California primary election that’s actually been underway since early this month almost certainly will not prove decisive, mostly because that’s the way the national Democratic Party wants things.

          This means that despite California’s best efforts, uncertainty about this year’s Democratic candidate for president will continue well into the spring, when the potential existed for it to be pretty much resolved very early on.

          What if, for one example, California’s 490-member delegation to the Democratic convention in Charlotte, NC, were chosen in the same winner-take-all way Republicans pick their delegates?

          It’s a good bet the many Democrats running in their party’s preliminary rounds would have foregone most of their time in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire, with their miniscule convention clout, and concentrated on California.

          But they did not, because all knew they had no chance to win a decisive majority in California and most figured they would get at least some delegates in the Golden State. So why bother to come here?

          The rules that ensure this continued uncertainly are called “proportional representation.” Candidates win delegates in each state in direct proportion to the votes they draw, so long as they manage 15 percent of the vote either in congressional districts or statewide.

          Yes, congressional districts will count for a lot when votes are counted starting on the official Election Night. No matter how early they are cast or mailed, no votes will be counted before then.

          So if former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Indiana’s Pete Buttegieg and one or two more candidates stay about even, as they are in some polls, all could get about 90 delegates here, but no one is likely to leave California with a significant margin over the others.

          Part of the problem is that the only Democrat campaigning in very many California districts has been former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Each of the 53 congressional districts will send between four and seven delegates to the convention, the actual number depending on just how strongly Democratic a district has voted lately.

          This meant that even a candidate getting less than 15 percent of the statewide vote could make hay in districts that have generally gone Republican by campaigning there and demonstrating some popular appeal. It seemed set up for moderate candidates like Biden, Buttegieg, Bloomberg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, but only Bloomberg dipped so much as a toe into those waters.

          Both statewide and in districts with more than four delegates, the leading candidates now appear destined to end up with similar numbers of convention votes.

          And California’s 79 unpledged “superdelegates,” – including big city mayors, statewide officials and members of Congress and the party’s national committee – won’t help anyone much, in contrast to their push for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Resentment of this from the party’s left wing forced a big change in superdelegate status: They can’t vote on the first ballot. This makes them irrelevant unless the convention deadlocks.

          So even though California will provide almost as many delegates as the other 12 states voting on the March 3 “Super Tuesday” combined, it can’t have nearly the influence legislators hoped for when they moved the vote up from June into early March.

          Making things even less decisive is the fact ballots mailed as late as Election Day will be counted if received no more than three days later. So final counts may not be known until weeks later. Shades of the botched Iowa caucuses.

          This system makes Democratic votes cast in usually Republican Texas almost as important as those in this Democratic stronghold. Add in smaller states like Minnesota, Alabama, Massachusetts and Oklahoma, and the Super Tuesday result is likely to be more confusion.

          That could help a late-arriving candidate like Bloomberg, whose seemingly unlimited self-financing has let him set up organizations in every Super Tuesday state, a phenomenon he’s bound to continue into later-voting places like New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania if his March 3 showing is even close to respectable.

          It all means that despite California’s trying to exert the influence its sheer size mandates, Democratic rules will thwart the effort.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to

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