With the non-primary in Florida behind them, Democratic Presidential candidates have less than a week to prepare for what some are calling Tsunami Tuesday, when 22 states will hold primaries. A few weeks ago, the conventional wisdom was that the selection process for the Democrats would essentially end on this day with Hillary Clinton’s coronation.
Barack Obama’s stunning victories in Iowa and South Carolina have now changed all that. Instead of clear sailing for the Clintons back to the White House, it now increasingly looks like there will be a deadlocked convention. And this is something that very few people alive today have ever experienced.
A deadlocked convention happens when no candidate arrives with a majority of votes. A second ballot takes place — and delegates are free to vote for whomever they want. This could include the other candidates, or even people who are not candidates. Delegates keep on voting until someone wins a majority.
The most famous deadlocked convention took place in 1924. The Democratic front runners were William G. McAdoo of California and Gov. Alfred E. Smith of New York. Smith would later on become the party’s first Roman Catholic candidate for the presidency four years later, but in 1924, he came to the New York City convention with only 22% of the delegates. McAdoo was the front runner with over 39%. In subsequent balloting, McAdoo’s strength rose, as did Smith’s, but neither one was able to reach a majority.
After one hundred rounds of voting, McAdoo’s vote had collapsed and Smith was up to nearly a third of the delegates. But delegates were tired of the war of attrition between the two rivals, and support emerged for a “dark horse” — the former Ambassador to Britain, John W. Davis. On the 103rd ballot, Davis won. He went on to be defeated by Republican Calvin Coolidge in the general election. Curiously, Coolidge never left his home to campaign, but won by a landslide.
Could history repeat itself? Unless one of the three current Democratic candidates withdraws from the race, this seems increasingly likely. Pressure is being brought by some on John Edwards to pull out, and rumours this week had Obama offering him a position in the cabinet as Attorney General. But Edwards himself keeps saying that he’s staying in the race until Denver. Maybe like John W. Davis, Edwards could turn out to be the compromise candidate that Clinton and Obama supporters agree upon.