Tuesday’s two-state presidential primary proved to be the fuel for one campaign’s continued dominance as another reached the end of the road.
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry swept this Tuesday’s two state primary, claiming 42 percent in Tennessee and a 52 percent in Virginia. Kerry handedly defeating Sen. John Edwards of South Carolina and Ret. General Wesley Clark of Arkansas.
Vermont Governor Howard Dean, Sen. Dennis Kucinich and Rev. Al Sharpton failed to earn any delegates in Tuesday’s contest.
So, who are these delegates and why do they matter?
Unlike a conventional “winner-take-all” system used by the Republican Party, Democrats choose to have each voting block represented by delegates. This means rather than a second place finisher walking away empty handed, they receive their earned portion of the delegates.
The goal for each candidate remaining in the race is to achieve the magic 2,161 delegates needed to carry the party’s nomination at this term’s Democratic National Convention, set for July 26-29, 2004, in Boston, Massachusetts.
It gets slightly more complicated from there.
The convention has two major groups of attendees. Party officials, dignitaries, journalists, general public and the candidates themselves make up one group. On the other side is the floor delegates selected in the primaries.
The real power lies with the delegates, those who choose the parties eventual nominee. A complex mathematical formula, based on voting history of the last three presidential elections of each state, determines the number of total delegates up for grabs in each primary.
Alternates are also selected to vote in place of a delegate in the event that he or she is unable to make it to the convention or for other reasons.
Like the Electoral College, a vote cast in the primaries is not for the candidate, it is for the delegate who will eventually vote for the candidate.
When voters went to the polls Tuesday in Tennessee Kerry claimed 31 of the state’s 69 delegates up for grabs, winning by 41 percent.
Tennessee is allotted 85 total delegates, so that leaves 16 delegates out of the equation. These delegates are considered unpledged, mostly party leaders or elected officials (PLEO) and add-on delegates appointed by the state committees. These add-on delegates did not claim affiliation with any campaign when they sought the post.
Early on in the race, delegate totals for each of the candidates also reflected some of the PLEO numbers that had already committed to a candidate. This phenomenon allowed Vermont Governor Howard Dean to lose in Iowa, but still maintain a healthy vote count above winner John Kerry.
The idea behind the system is to allow flexibility on the convention floor. Candidates must wrap up a healthy tally of pledged voters to stave off a revolt of the roughly 20 percent in attendance that are unpledged.
As candidates drop out of the race, their delegates selected in earlier primaries become unpledged delegates, and instantly the targets of a lot of political persuasion.
With these numbers added into an already growing field of unpledged delegates, it sets the stage for a drama field weekend at the national convention.