What If No Democratic Presidential Candidate Gets Enough Delegates?

Senator Kamala Harris launches her presidential campaign at a rally in Oakland, Calif., January 27, 2019. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

Over at Larry Sabato’s “Crystal Ball” site, Kyle Kondik observes that considering the size of the field and the Democratic party’s way of allocating delegates — no winner-take-all states, just a 15 percent threshold to win any delegates — the primary season could end with no candidate winning the necessary number of delegates and “the Democratic National Convention could hypothetically go to a second ballot.”

(Those who would like to see a party convention be newsworthy again will be cheering for this scenario.)

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There’s a good chance that the 15 percent rule is going to cause Democrats headaches. Somebody at some point is going to win 13 or 14 percent of the vote a state primary and not get any delegates, and that candidate and their supporters are likely to be furious. You will probably hear a lot of cries of “rigged!” and claims that the process is unfair — or that it even represents “voter suppression” of some kind. (This is what a lot of Democrats do when they lose an election. They appear to believe in only two possible outcomes: they win or somebody else must have cheated.)

Imagine a scenario where Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker all get roughly the same share of the vote in a state primary. That sort of split would give everyone . . .  14.2 percent of the vote. Who gets the delegates then? Or what if one candidate gets, say, 20 percent of the vote and everyone else is under 15 percent? Does the leading candidate get 100 percent of the delegates? Unless there’s a clear frontrunner, a lot of candidates will scream that the process is unfair and rigged against them.

And Democrats shouldn’t count on low funds forcing some of the long-shot candidates to step off the stage. A candidate who just wants to hang around and get invited to debates and do television interviews can hang around for a long time, even without much money. In 2016, Jim Gilmore raised $824,000 in the entire cycle and stayed in the race until after the New Hampshire primary. John Kasich’s campaign raised $18 million, won 161 out of a possible 2,472 delegates, and he stayed in the race until May.

When do the Democrats start thinking about unity tickets?

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