Is there hope for an Al Gore presidency yet? The closer the Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama race gets, the more plausible the scenario (ok, at this point it's still the fantasy scenario) that has the former vice-president being drafted at the August Democratic convention, finding himself on a second ballot for the nomination. Crazy, you say? Not really. I wrote about this possibility a while back, and I'm not yet convinced it's that improbable a scenario. In fact, Newsweek's Eleanor Clift wrote about the same thing on Friday. The last time the Dems had a brokered convention was 1952, when President Harry Truman allegedly hand-picked Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson to be the party's nominee.
To be sure, it's those pesky little 'super-delegates' who may hold all the cards. Many remain uncommitted, and even those pledged can switch allegiances at convention time. Just who are these folks who wield such ultimate power? There are 795 of them on the Democratic side, not counting those in Florida and Michigan (the states whose delegates were unseated by the party over primary-scheduling disputes). They comprise former U.S. presidents, vice-presidents, DNC members, governors, snators, US representatives and other party officials. The system was hatched in frustrated response to the 1972 nomination of the largely-unpopular George McGovern and inexperienced Jimmy Carter in 1976. Their effect was first felt in 1984 when they pulled away from Gary Hart to pledge support to Walter Mondale, the more electible nominee. These virtual kingmakers exist as a safety-valve against ideologically extreme or inexperienced candidates. Their mandate is to ensure that the party puts forth its most electible candidate in the general election.
Now jump to 2008. Here's were it gets interesting: Clinton needs 86% of the remaining 1237 regular, pledged delegates--starting Tuesday in Hawaii and Wisconsin--to win the nomination outright without any superdelegates. In turn, Obama needs 80%. At the rate they're going, they could feasibly split this balance and each end up with around 1900 or so delegates overall, well short of the 2025 needed to win the nomination.
Let's suppose the Democrats head to Denver in late August and Obama and Clinton are deadlocked. The party's power-brokers panic, fearing neither candidate has a clear majority of popular support and therefore can't beat the GOP's John McCain in November. They turn to Gore, a proven entity who would unite the party and perhaps enlist Obama or Clinton as his running-mate, creating an unbeatable ticket in the process. For Gore to get on the ballot, according to Clift, "All it would take is a delegate perhaps from Tennessee, his home state, to raise a point of order, and with backing from five other state delegations, Gore's name could be put in play as a prospective nominee."
Not so crazy after all....
Now there's been much said about whether or not it bodes well for our Democracy to have such a small group of political kingpins potentially deciding the outcome of an election. But keep in mind that super-delegates are not some renegade band of self-serving mavericks out to undermine the Democratic party. To the contrary, they are the party's most accomplished, most respected, most vested members who truly have only one mission: to ensure that the party sends is best candidate into November so that it can win.