Magazine article The Christian Century

Delegate Count

Magazine article The Christian Century

Delegate Count

Article excerpt

AS A DELEGATE and organizer at six Democratic national conventions (those that nominated George McGovern, Jimmy Carter [twice], Bill Clinton [twice] and Al Gore), I offer this advice to the campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton: settle the nominating business before you go to Denver. Convention floor fights delight the media but damage the nominee.

Delegate strategy for the Obama campaign is in the hands of David Axelrod, whom I met in 1984 when he was a Chicago Tribune political reporter covering the Senate primary campaign of Paul Simon and I was Simon's campaign manager. After Simon won a four-way primary race, Axelrod succeeded me and guided Simon to a general election victory.

I met Hillary Clinton adviser and delegate strategist Harold Ickes as an adversary. We were on the floor of the 1980 convention that nominated Jimmy Carter to run for a second term. I was the chief floor whip for Carter's Illinois delegation; Ickes was directing Ted Kennedy's delegate race. Carter arrived at the convention with a 2,129 to 1,150 delegate lead over Kennedy. Having won a majority of the delegates in the primaries and caucuses, Carter had guaranteed his nomination and, he hoped, a unified convention.

It was assumed that Kennedy would withdraw from the race before the convention opened. But Kennedy and Ickes had another idea. Determined to poach enough Carter delegates to overcome Carter's majority, Ickes introduced a rules change that would have removed a "faithful delegate" rule that obligated delegates to vote for the candidate to whom they were pledged.

While network television reporters roamed the convention floor sniffing for signs of disharmony, Ickes sent out operatives to strong-arm Carter delegates. His poaching effort failed, however, and the faithful-delegate rule was retained. Two years later a more nuanced rule stated: "Delegates shall in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them." This sounds like a faithful-delegate rule to me.

Columnist Howard Fineman describes Ickes as an abrasive lawyer who "once bit the leg of a foe in a political clubhouse brawl and threatened to slam a congresswoman into the Broadway pavement." But, Fineman adds, Ickes "knows more about the mechanics of Democratic presidential politics than any person alive" (Newsweek, February 20). …

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