In the Democratic presidential nomination race, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are in a tight race for Nevada, but Clinton is far ahead in South Carolina and 10 of the early March contests. A Sanders win in Nevada could change those numbers, but the likelihood remains that Clinton will eventually claim the nomination.
But, as I explain today in Politico Magazine, that would not mean all is lost for Bernie.
Under Democratic Party delegate allocation rules, a candidate needs to win by enormous margins to build up a wide delegate lead. Even a 10-point loss still yields a significant delegate haul for a second-place finisher.
Often, once the eventual winner is clear, the runner-up drops out. But when the runner-up has a message to deliver to the convention and supporters willing to keep up the fight, it’s a different story.
Sanders is likely to reach the convention with more than 25 percent of the total delegates, even if he wins few of the superdelegates that make up 15 percent of the delegate pool. That is enough, under convention rules, to force a “minority report” out of the platform committee.
The most famous “minority report” in Democratic convention history is the 1948 report expressing support for racial equality and civil rights. Senate candidate Hubert Humphrey convinced the party to adopt the report on the convention floor.
It was divisive. Deep South delegates walked out. Strom Thurmond left the party and launched a third-party presidential candidacy. Harry Truman, who had previously laid out a bold civil rights program, was deeply worried that Humphrey’s confrontational maneuver would backfire. But increased African-American turnout offset the loss of segregationists. Not only did Truman win, but the Democratic Party and the country were put on the path of equal rights, and changed forever.
Not all divided conventions have such happy endings. The Carter-Kennedy ideological divide of 1980 was exacerbated on the convention floor, leaving the party disunited for the general election fight with Ronald Reagan. In 1988, Michael Dukakis’ aides blamed Jesse Jackson’s convention provocations for depressed African-American turnout.
But if Sanders comes to Philadelphia in July with a legion of delegates, chances are he’s going to look to the Humphrey example and hope that he can similarly transform the Democratic Party.