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2004 DNC Delegate Allocation

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After the relatively focused retail campaigns of Iowa and New Hampshire, the surviving candidates enter a dizzying array of primaries.  Frontloading compressed the primary calendar to the extent that in 2000, 42% of Republican delegates and 39% of Democratic delegates were selected by March 7.  Candidates must decide where to concentrate their efforts and resources as they jump around the country trying to hit key media markets and win enough delegates to gain their party nominations.

In 2004, Primary Calendar is Again Frontloaded
In recent presidential campaigns, the primary calendar has been characterized by increasing frontloading.  To an unprecedented degree individual states have sought to move their primaries as far forward as the rules permit so that their voters will have a say in the selection of the parties' nominees.  In 2000, this led to a huge clumping of contests on March 7, Mega Tuesday.  For Democrats in 2004, 16 states and Democrats Abroad will hold primaries or caucuses in February, including five primaries and two caucuses on February 3.  Past efforts to address the frontloading problem have not met with success.  Reform is likely to be achieved only if an incumbent president gets behind the effort.

Under Democratic rules, approved by the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee, meeting in Washington, DC on Nov. 10, 2001 [report], and confirmed by full DNC at its winter meeting in Washington, DC on Jan. 19, 2002 [report] primaries and caucuses must occur between the first Tuesday in February (Feb. 3, 2004) and the second Tuesday in June (June 8, 2004).  This is known as "the window."  However, the rules make specific exceptions for Iowa and New Hampshire.  By tradition these two states are accorded first status on the premise that they allow for retail campaigning.  The Iowa caucuses took place on Jan. 19, 2004 and the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 27, 2004 with other states following starting Feb. 3, 2004. [Calendar]

Democrats had such a crowded field early on that it was possible the process could have continued to the convention in Boston.  However, the crush of primaries in February 2004 was designed to produce a Democratic nominee early on, thus avoiding a bruising, drawn-out battle for the nomination.  It succeeded in that respect.  However the relatively early determination of the Democratic nomination and the uncontested Republican primary campaign led to low voter participation in later states.

With President George W. Bush seeking re-election, Republicans will not have a contested primary battle.  Nonetheless the process of selecting delegates and alternates to the national convention must go on.  Republican primaries and caucuses must occur within the window from Feb. 3, 2004 to June 15, 2004 as set out in the party's rules [Rule No. 15(b)(11)(i)] adopted  by the 2000 Republican National Convention on July 31, 2000.  Unlike the Democrats' rules, the Republican rules have no exceptions for Iowa and New Hampshire.1 There are other differences; Republicans do not require that the state party delegate selection plans be approved by the national party nor do they have the strict affirmative action requirements.  All told 2,509 delegates and 2,344 alternates will be selected.

How the Primary System Works
Objective: Amass Enough Delegates to Win the Nomination

Delegates to the national conventions are selected through state primaries and caucuses.  Each state party has its own set of rules for selecting delegates; these plans are subject to approval of the Republican National Committee or the Democratic National Committee, respectively, and must also be in accord with state election law.  (In most states, the legislature actually sets the date and general format for the primary or caucuses).  A few states like Iowa still use a multi-tiered caucus system, but most now have primaries

Caucuses are a multi-stage process that typically begins at the precinct level and proceeds through a series of steps to a state convention.  Because the caucus system requires a citizen to take the time to go to a meeting and sit through some speeches, there is generally a very low participation rate.  On the plus side, caucuses entail a deeper level of participation and involvement than merely going to the polling place to cast a ballot.  Caucuses can be an inspiring example of democracy at work.

The specifics of primaries vary from state to state.  In a closed primary, only party members can vote in the primary.  In an open primary, the voter need not be registered as a member of a particular party to vote in that party's primary.  A blanket primary is an extreme case of an open primary where the voter faces a ballot which has the names of all the candidates running for the office irrespective of party.

Generally, delegates are awarded in each congressional district, and there are also at-large delegates allotted according to statewide performance.  On the Republican side, some states use a winner-take-all system, where the primary winner gets all the state's delegates.  (Democratic rules "exclude the use of the unit rule at any level.")   Finally, in addition to the pledged delegates up for grabs in the primary, Democrats have a category of unpledged delegates, comprising elected officials and party leaders. 

The overall number of delegates and alternates each state will send to the conventions is set by the national party committees using allocation formulas that reflect state populations, but also take into account party strength and other factors.  As an example, California, with a population of about 34 million, will send 440 delegates to the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston out of a total of 4,320 delegate votes (10.2%), while New Hampshire, with a population of 1.3 million, will send 27 delegates (0.6%) to the Democratic Convention.  California's 440 delegates will include 370 pledged delegates and 70 unpledged delgates; 61 alternates will bring the total delegation to 501.

According to the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, voter turnout in the 2000 presidential primaries was the second lowest level since 1960.  CSAE reported that 12 states showed record high turnout in Republican primaries, due largely to the heated contest between McCain and Bush.  Meanwhile, Democratic turnout remained at the 1996 level, which is surprising given that President Clinton did not face a challenger in 1996, while in 2000 the Gore-Bradley contest generated some interest.  March 7 primaries settled both the Democratic and Republican races; on March 9 Bradley ended his campaign and McCain suspended his.  Twenty-five states held presidential primaries after March 7; turnout sank to record lows in many of these.  All told, Federal Election Commission numbers show that roughly 35 million Americans participated in presidential primaries and caucuses in 2000. 

The Calm after the Storm
After a candidate has gained enough delegates to win the party nomination it may be several months until the convention.  During this period between the end of the primaries and the conventions, the presumptive nominees bolster their campaign organizations and place key people in the national party committees to prepare for the general election.  Also, conventional wisdom has it that the presumptive nominees must move back to the center after playing to more committed or extreme elements of their respective parties to win in the primaries.  How the candidate uses this time can have an important effect on his or her success in the fall. 

For example, in 1992 Bill Clinton used the month of June to regroup following a tough passage through the primaries.  In 1996 Bob Dole had essentially won the nomination by mid-March, but he faced the period from April to the convention with virtually no funds.  In June, Dole gained much attention when he surprised everyone by resigning his Senate seat. 

Again in 2000 the post-primary period proved important.  Gov. George W. Bush effectively secured the Republican nomination on March 7, 2000; during late March and April he introduced a reading initiative, a plan to clean up brownfields, a "New Prosperity Initiative" to help people move from poverty to the middle class and a health care plan.  More such proposals followed in the months leading up to the convention.  For Vice President Gore, however, there were some bumps.  He moved his campaign headquarters to a third location and brought on a new campaign chairman, while weathering concerns about his polling numbers.  In June Gore launched a "Progress and Prosperity" tour.

In 2004 the calendar again led to early selection of the Democratic nominee.  Sen. John Edwards, the last major challenger to Sen. John Kerry, withdrew from the race on March 3. In the months leading up to the convention Kerry engaged in record-breaking fundraising efforts.

Vice Presidential Picks
Finally, there are the vice presidential selections to consider.  The presumptive nominee selects someone to oversee the careful vetting required of a vice presidential search.  The screening process goes on out of the public eye, but that does not prevent pundits from discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the various prospects.  From week to week, this name or that name is touted as the likely favorite; speculation grows, there is a short list and rumors as to who is on it, and finally the announcement.  In 2000 Bush announced his selection of Dick Cheney in Austin on July 25; Gore named Sen. Joe Lieberman in Nashville on August 8.  In 2004, presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry announced his selection of Sen. John Edwards as his running mate relatively early on July 6 in Pittsburgh.

Democratic Vice Presidential Speculation  
Among those mentioned:
Sen. Evan Bayh (IN)  Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY)  Gen. Wesley Clark, ret.  Sen. John Edwards (NC)  Rep. Dick Gephardt (MO)  Sen. Bob Graham (FL)  Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) Gov. Janet Napolitano (AZ)  Gov. Ed Rendell (PA)  Gov. Bill Richardson (NM)  Gov. Tom Vilsack (IA)  Gov. Mark Warner (VA)
...Draft Kerry-Edwards
...National Draft Dean for VP Committee
...Bill Richardson letter removing self from consideration

Republican Vice Presidential Speculation

Third Party Nominating Processes
The exigencies of ballot access affect how third parties choose their nominees.  For example, in 2000 the U.S. Taxpayers Party presidential ticket was chosen by delegates meeting at a convention in St. Louis over Labor Day weekend in September 1999.  For the Reform Party, the primary ballot was distributed on July 4, 2000 and the results were announced at the party's convention in August.

1. The lack of alignment in the Democratic and Republican primary calendars has created problems in the past and could do so again in future.  For example in 2000, because of the DNC rules, Democrats in states such as South Carolina and Michigan were forced to wait on the sidelines while Republicans engaged in contested primaries that generated huge interest and media attention.  Iowa and New Hampshire laws are clear that those states' contests must be first.  Iowa's January 19 caucuses and New Hampshire's January 27 primary fall outside of the Republican window, but in the absence of a contested primary it is really a moot point.

William G. Mayer and Andrew E. Busch.  December 2003.  THE FRONT-LOADING PROBLEM IN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS.  Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

In July 2002 the non-profit, nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute launched a Blue Ribbon Task Force on Financing Presidential Nominations to examine some of the system's problems.  The Task Force released its report Participation, Competition, Engagement: Reviving And Improving Public Funding For Presidential Nomination Politics on September 22, 2003.

Shorenstein Center Research Paper R-19 "COMMUNICATION PATTERNS IN PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARIES 1912-2000: Knowing the Rules of the Game," Kathleen E. Kendall. June, 1998.

2000 Primary Results (Federal Election Commission)
1996 Primary Results (Federal Election Commission)

The lead up to the 2000 campaign saw significant efforts to address the frontloading problem, but these ultimately failed to produce results.

In 2000 the two parties' windows differed somewhat.  Democratic rules set out a period between the first Tuesday in March and the second Tuesday in June, and had a special provision for the Iowa precinct caucuses and the New Hampshire primary to go earlier.  [Rule 10A, Delegate Selection Rules for the 2000 Democratic National Convention].  Republican rules for 2000 were more flexible, requiring that the process of selecting delegates occur between the first Monday of February and the third Tuesday of June [Rule No. 32(b)(11)(i)].  This created a very different pacing in the early part of the Democratic and Republican races.   2000 calendar>

Copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.