Hillary Clinton is right: Some nominations don't get settled until June - or later. Consider 1972, when Hillary Rodham worked on Sen. George McGovern's campaign
Hillary Clinton is right: Some nominations don't get settled until June - or later. Consider 1972, when Hillary Rodham worked on Sen. George McGovern's campaign.
McGovern's campaign manager, a brilliant young man named Gary Hart, had helped write the delegate selection rules and he knew how to use them. He ran an insurgent campaign, built on young anti-Vietnam War activists, dedicated to wresting the Democratic Party away from union bosses and big city machines.
California was a winner-take-all primary that June, so even though McGovern won just 55 percent of the vote, he grabbed all 273 delegates. Those delegates put him over the top, but his opponents, led by Hubert Humphrey, wouldn't concede. Humphrey had won more popular votes than McGovern, they argued. McGovern was too liberal to win in November. A "Stop McGovern" campaign - spearheaded by a little-known Georgian named Jimmy Carter - challenged the rules, demanding California's delegates be awarded proportionally.
"They carried the battle all the way to the convention floor," McGovern recalled in a recent New York Times oped column. "I was on the telephone night and day, calling delegates and asking them not to change the rules after the votes were in. My campaign staff and I staggered into the convention exhausted. We had spent almost no time preparing the convention agenda or selecting and vetting a running mate."
The convention was a disaster. McGovern made his acceptance speech at 3 a.m. McGovern had wanted Ted Kennedy to be his vice-presidential candidate, but Kennedy turned him down. McGovern turned to Sen. Tom Eagleton of Missouri, who was later discovered to have had mental illness treatment and was replaced on the ticket. McGovern lost to incumbent Richard Nixon in a landslide of historic proportions.
One result of that defeat: the Democrats invented "superdelegates," - elected officials and party brass who would automatically be seated at the convention - to provide a voice for the party establishment and to keep insurgent campaigns from ever again driving the party off a cliff.
Today's Democrats have good reason to want to avoid another fight over rules that goes all the way to the convention floor. That's why some compromise on the Michigan and Florida delegations was expected to come out of yesterday's Rules Committee meeting.
It will probably involve seating half the delegates or giving them each half-votes. That's the sanction Terry McAuliffe, who is Clinton's campaign chair, threatened to impose on Michigan delegates when that state considered moving up its primary in 2004, back when McAuliffe was chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Obama can afford to be gracious. As of Friday, he was 42 delegates short of clinching the nomination, and even if including Florida and Michigan moves the finish line, he'll still be about 200 delegates closer to it than Clinton.
Clinton's fast-fading hope is that superdelegates will become convinced she's the stronger candidate and flock to her, but they've been trickling in Obama's direction for months. Obama may have started with an insurgent campaign, but he's now got at least as much of the party establishment on his side as she does.
The disastrous convention of 1972 - along with the similarly fractious conventions in 1968 and 1980 - still haunt senior Democrats. They want the August convention in Denver to be a well-staged infomercial, not a bare-knuckled brawl.
That's why Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are leaning on uncommitted superdelegates to announce their decisions this week, after Tuesday's last two primaries. Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, will press the superdelegates who are party officials. Reid, the Senate Majority leader, and Pelosi, the House speaker, will lean on their members to choose sides.
Not all will choose Obama, but most of them will, and as they do so, they will shower Hillary Clinton with love and admiration. Dean and Pelosi, who will chair the convention, will offer her a prime-time speech. Reid may offer her a plum Senate assignment - with some Democrats suggesting she'd make a good majority leader. Obama would be wise not to offer her the vice-presidency, but a Cabinet post isn't out of the question.
"By this time next week, it will all be over," Reid said Thursday, and most Democrats - even many Clinton supporters - hope it's true.
This isn't 1972, when Americans were divided by war, when generations were divided by culture and when Democrats were torn between the establishment and the insurgents. It's 2008, a year that began with Democrats pleased with their cast of contenders and should end with a party headed toward November with the wind at its back.
The primary campaign is ending amid exhaustion and bitterness, with both candidates bruised. But it is ending - or should be, at least - with time to heal before the convention.
Rick Holmes, opinion editor of the MetroWest Daily News, blogs at Holmes & Co. (http://blogs.townonline.com/holmesandco). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.