Party People — A Newbie’s Guide to the Democratic National Convention

| August 25, 2008 | 4 Comments

Delegates. Superdelegates. Pledged delegates. Unpledged delegates. Electoral maps. Smoke-filled rooms. Backdoor deals. Roll calls. Infomercial style telecasts. The Clintons. Both. Speaking out loud.

Tis time for the Democratic National Convention. A time to be confused, yet again, by the “feel good” unity of a convoluted election process.

Many a Republican has joked that there is nothing Democratic about how the Democratic Party picks a presidential nominee, and those Republicans are right. The Democrats’ present, convoluted process was created as a stop-gap in case “we, the people” voted in someone who was “unelectable.” This essentially gives party leaders the ability to veto whatever yahoo we determined was worthy of our vote.

Silly proletariats! Politics are for party “elitists” who’ve run this country since 1787. Who are we to think we know who we want for president?

But I digress. If you choose to watch the convention, which is now a glistening coronation instead of an all white male political “fight club,” you may scratch your head at the rituals and anachronisms, but you need not be befuddled. Impress your friends and neighbors with this little handy primer on the process!


To understand the Dems you first have to recognize one of the leading factors to why picking a president has been so disorganized. They’ve been around since 1844 and according to the DNC, they are the “longest running political organization in the world.”

So there’s some hubris involved. And some of it is George McGovern’s fault – for better and for worse.

In 1996 CNN put out a primer laying down the history of the Democratic Convention. There were no formal rules before 1972. They had the “Unit Rule” which allowed for a majority of a delegation to cast their whole vote for a sole candidate or position, which was later abolished in 1968. Before that they had a two-thirds nominating rule where candidates for president and vice president had to win two-thirds of the majority vote.

Then that got axed in 1936 “because the rule produced seven multi-ballot conventions between the years of 1832 and 1932.”

Fun times.

But it was McGovern, a senator from South Dakota, who helped create the modern primary and convention system.

McGovern, who failed miserably as a presidential candidate, shaped the nomination process as first chairman of the Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection. He helped eliminate the “undemocratic” rules that allowed small groups of state party officials to cherry pick delegates, use them as patsies and pick a winner who did not reflect who the public’s vote.

From 1968 to 1992, adjustments were made including:

1) crafting rules to guarantee better representation for women, young people and minorities;

2) secured PROPORTIONAL ALLOCATION of delegates, based on state primary or caucus results (eliminating winner-take-all allocation of delegates); and

3) gave convention votes to party leaders and elected officials (they are nicknamed SUPERDELEGATES and are allowed to remain uncommitted until the convention).

So because of McGovern we have this confusing hodge podge of kinda-Democratic, kinda-not politics. There’s more sunshine in those formerly smoke-filled rooms, but the party big wigs can still vote against the will of the people.

And with that bit of history out of the way, we can dig into the nitty-gritty Democratic committee.


Fifty-thousand people are expected to show up, but there can only be one “queen” of the castle.

The boss of the 2008 Democratic Convention is not DNC Party Chairman and former presidential candidate Howard Dean. Rather it’s Nancy Pelosi, the current Speaker of the House of Representatives, who will be “nominated” to serve as the Convention’s Permanent Chair. Her ladies-in-waiting, aka Permanent Convention Co-Chair nominees, will include: Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, State Senator Leticia Van de Putte of Texas and Mayor Shirley Franklin of Atlanta.

Sisters are truly doing it for themselves when it comes to being the hostesses of convention. Even the CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee is a woman, Leah D. Daughtry, Dean’s chief of staff.

It could be assumed that all this gyno-centric vision of leadership has something to do with the fact that former presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was unable to make that slide into home plate.


To get the nomination a candidate needs delegates. Since Barack Obama was the last person standing in June, the majority of the 3,409.5 pledged delegates are most likely to come to his side. There will also be 823.5 unpledged delegates, aka the oft mentioned “superdelegates.” They can vote anyway they want, but a majority of them have promised their support to Obama.

But let’s pretend there’s some competition for the Great Hope Mongerer. He would need 2,117 votes to secure the nomination. But as I mentioned earlier, that was decided long ago when the primary race ended in June.

But these aren’t the only delegate rules. Gosh no. Let’s make this a little more complicated.

Pledged delegates are split up in accordance to two criteria:

1) They must be in proportion with the number of votes the state gave the Democratic nominee in the last three presidential elections

2) The percentage of votes each state has must also match the number of votes they have in the Electoral College.

On top of that, fixed numbers of delegates are set for US territories Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the US Virgin Islands and Democrats living abroad. Delegations must also reflect the state’s ethnic make-up and at least half of all delegates must be women.

But if you want to be really confused, please do read the DNCC’s own explanation of the delegate process.


Political conventions used to be more fun to watch (or so I’ve been told). Presidential and vice presidential nominees really did fight and lobby for delegates at the convention. The reporter Dan Rather did get knocked down after being punched in the gut for being your standard nosy reporter. People waged war, like the 1980 convention when Sen. Ted Kennedy went down fighting to keep then President Jimmy Carter from being renominated.

Carter managed to not get reelected anyway, but the 1980 convention, along with other “ugly” conventions in 1968 and 1972 caused the political gatherings to move from messy politics to a pretty, pretty dog and pony show. A mere formality to get some business out of the way and showcase the talent. As long as TV cameras were present, politicos were going to be on their very best behavior. Therefore modern conventions can sometimes be as thrilling as watching QVC. Ratings have dramatically gone down. It seems “I went to a fight and a political convention broke out” was a bigger draw than “A Place Called Hope.”


The DNC has a handy schedule for those who want to know every last speaker and every last theme of the convention. They’ll also inform you about the various committees making sure everyone plays be the rules.

Originally the Dems were going to skip out on the traditional roll call where individual states call out for whom they are voting. All of Obama’s former opponents had pulled their names out of contention, freeing up their delegates (if they had any) for him. But due to the unpleasantness of the Clinton-Obama Primary Smackdown of 2008 (and the lingering feelings of bitterness, anger and disappointment), there will be a roll call.

This is an act largely for theater as both Obama and Clinton agreed to it. Clinton even calling it a way to gain catharsis for die hard Clintonistas. But this will likely be a mere formality. With the superdelegates and his own hard won delegates he has more than enough to make it over a largely symbolic tide.

This roll call is a way to acknowledge the history making duo for all their accomplishments in the face of adversity, opposition in the press, the Republicans and from each other.

Everyone gets a speech. Everyone gets to stand-up for their nominee and the whole week’s worth of activities will be capped off by, what could be, one of the biggest speech of Obama’s career.

One love.

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  1. Janet WynnNo Gravatar says:

    And all of this is costing the taxpayers how much? I wonder how many homeless people will go unfed this week, how many people will lose their homes, jobs, and sanity. We are the only country in the world who seem to major in the minors and minor in the majors. I know what it is–too many people want their cake and eat it too, and your cake and everyone else’s cake.

    Finding it hard to take this convention seriously, wonder why?

    signed: what happens next?

  2. [...] Party People — A Newbie’s Guide to the Democratic National Convention [...]

  3. EmmieNo Gravatar says:

    Hi guys – What I want to know is – once you get past the primals and you end up with two candidates and their running mates (whom you can’t elect) can you only vote for one of those two candidates? If “obviously” not, has anyone looked into it legally. Everyone I know in Australia is asking the question, “Why have they got these to morons as their only choice when they have someone outstanding like Ron Paul?” We would give our eye teeth for a politician like Ron Paul!!

  4. Technically anyone can run for president. Ron Paul could run as an independent if he wanted too.

    However, running for office is very expensive and some don’t run because of the money.

    During this election, I think another candidate has not emerged for fear of splitting the vote of either the Democrats or the Republicans.

    Ralph Nadar did this in a previous election and people say that his being in the race is the reason that the Democrats lost.

    This year, the race is so close and the stakes are so high that an Independent candidate would not win and would most likely hurt one of the other parties.

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