Democrats see chances rising for brokered convention
NASHUA, N.H. — The chance of a contested Democratic convention has increased after the muddle of the Iowa caucuses, raising anxieties ahead of Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.
Iowa’s delayed results left five top-tier candidates soldiering on, even as New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg blankets television airwaves with advertisements ahead of his first appearance on ballots in March.
This has all raised the likelihood of a longer primary fight where none of the candidates might win the 1,990 delegates needed to clinch the party’s presidential nomination.
“It’s possible, it’s quite possible,” said Chris Spirou, the former New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman and veteran political operative in the state. “I think Bloomberg entering into this thing provides a much greater possibility of a brokered convention.”
A brokered convention, which would increase the power of the party officials known as superdelegates, would be good news for President Trump, since those who lose such a contest might be even more angered over the process.
“It would be much better if we had a candidate win a sufficient number of delegates going into the convention,” Spirou said, “but I’m confident we’ll have a candidate coming out of it who can defeat Trump.”
Iowa appears to have ended with a near tie between former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
The two of them and three others — former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), all have reason to continue on after Iowa. The field still consists of 11 candidates in all, including two billionaires in Bloomberg and Tom Steyer.
The latest forecast model from FiveThirtyEight put the chances of no candidate winning a majority of delegates at 24 percent.
No candidate reached the 30 percent mark in Iowa or dropped out after the caucuses, which have traditionally winnowed the field.
The centrist vote is deeply divided at the moment between Buttigieg, Biden and Klobuchar, who is getting a burst of momentum heading into Election Day after raising $2 million in the hours after the New Hampshire debate.
Sanders appears to have galvanized the left, but Warren has a lot of money, a top-notch organization and an energized base of supporters eager to see the first woman elected to the White House.
Steyer found little support in Iowa but is running strong in South Carolina. And businessman Andrew Yang and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) have their own pockets of support in New Hampshire.
Some Democrats hope that New Hampshire will give more clarity to the race, but there is no guarantee.
“There’s a real possibility of a brokered convention and that in itself may be enough to serve as motivation for some who might have otherwise dropped out, to hang around longer to see if they can’t have a place in this thing and play a part in determining the nominee,” said Jim Demers, a veteran Democratic strategist in New Hampshire. “Resources will be key.”
No one has more resources than Bloomberg, who has spent more than $300 million on television ads already and announced the day after the Iowa caucuses that he’d double that amount in the weeks ahead — a clear sign that he sees a path to scooping up delegates in the chaotic and fluid race.
Bloomberg’s ad blitz has been effective, boosting him into double-digits in national polls. He’s the only candidate running a true national campaign with staff, offices and resources spread across all of the Super Tuesday states and beyond.
“He can be in all 14 Super Tuesday states at the same time through TV and social,” said Bob Mulholland, a Democratic National Committee member. “No other candidate has that ability.”
He’s also been aggressive in courting governors, mayors and House members, scooping up unexpected endorsements and meeting behind the scenes with state parties and local advocacy groups. Those actions are a sign that Bloomberg is angling for the kind of support he’d need from party leaders to win a potential contested convention.
“Bloomberg potentially could spend $4 billion or $5 billion of his own money, not just for his own campaign, but for Democrats all over, from dog catcher to Senate,” said Lenny Glynn, a Massachusetts businessman who crossed into New Hampshire to hear from the candidates. “Every single superdelegate at the Democratic convention, if we don’t have a clear majority, is going to realize — holy bazookas, Mike Bloomberg might spend $5 million in support of my campaign for a district in Oklahoma. So yeah, there’s a chance.”
Bloomberg’s rivals have taken notice, hammering him at Friday’s debate, and saying it’s unacceptable for a billionaire to step in and try to buy the nomination.
Only 41 delegates were divided up in Iowa, and it’s possible the field will narrow quickly this month or after Super Tuesday.
There are a huge number of undecided voters whose biggest concern is electability, and they could flock to the candidate who starts winning states once more voters have had a say.
While several campaigns appear viable at the moment, several could be running on fumes by this year’s Super Tuesday on March 3.
Candidates with small delegate hauls will be under pressure to drop out. Party leaders who have stayed on the sidelines, such as former President Obama, might step in to get behind a consensus pick in an effort to bring that candidate home.
“This is always possible, but it’s too early to tell,” said William Galston, a former Clinton administration official and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said of a brokered convention. “By the end of this month, the field is going to be a lot smaller.”
Still, Democrats say all the ingredients are there to make it a possibility.
“Every four years there’s this fantasy about the possibility and how fun and exciting it would be,” said Joe Trippi, a veteran campaign hand from several presidential and congressional races in New Hampshire. “This year you have the Iowa muddle, Bloomberg’s billions, Biden’s strength with African Americans, so it could happen. And if it doesn’t happen with all that’s going on this time around, forget it, it’ll never happen.”