It Doesn’t Matter If Hillary Is Nominated or Not

Marc Ambinder has an interesting post about the debate within Hillary Clinton’s campaign over whether to pursue a formal roll call vote at the convention. After noting that some advisors oppose the idea because there would inevitably be slippage (perhaps considerable) between Clinton’s primary season delegate total and her roll call total, Ambinder writes that:

Other Clinton aides note that Bill Clinton was generous enough to give Jerry Brown a roll call vote in 1992 even though Brown had been sharply and personally critical of Hillary Clinton during the primary campaign. Indeed, symbolic roll call votes are regular parts of conventions.

This is inaccurate. Bill Clinton did not “give” Jerry Brown anything in 1992. As I wrote last week, the Clintons actually drove a very hard line with Brown and Paul Tsongas, who clung to about 1,100 combined delegates as the convention approached. If they didn’t endorse Clinton and publicly swear off a roll call, they wouldn’t be allowed to speak in primetime. Tsongas played along. Brown didn’t. Brown then had himself nominated so that he could speak. (Under party rules, anyone who is nominated is entitled to speak to the convention – although his remarks came an hour before all of the networks went live with coverage.) After that, there was a roll call.

Actually, the case of the ’92 convention illustrates the absurdity of the should-she-seek-one-or-not debate over Hillary Clinton and a roll call. It really doesn’t matter what she does.

Let’s say she does what Tsongas did (at the Clintons’ insistence) in ’92 and releases her delegates, urges them to vote for Obama as a sign of unity, and refuses to be formally nominated. Even then, there’d probably be a roll call. Why? Because the only other option would be for Obama to be nominated by acclimation. But if the Obama campaign ever tried to gavel that through, it could produce a humiliating television clip, since a good chunk of Hillary’s delegates (a quarter? half? hundreds, at least) would angrily resist, believing that they were being denied their chance to express their voice. The idea of nominating by acclimation is to demonstrate that the convention is in agreement on something. But if hundreds of Hillary supporters were to scream in opposition (perhaps louder than Obama’s supporters), the effect would be awful for the Democrats.

This is one reason the Obama campaign is likely to seek a formal roll call of the states no matter what. The other reason is tradition. Delegates (and especially the state delegation chairmen and –women, who get to announce their tallies) relish the moment their state’s name is called, when the whole convention and the viewing audience on television gets to hear all about their state’s natural wonders, native products, and successful sports teams.

And if there is a roll call, then delegates can vote for Clinton whether she’s been nominated or not. Again, the ’92 example is instructive: Tsongas, by order of the Clinton campaign, released his delegates and requested that they vote for Clinton. He also refused to be formally nominated. And yet he still tallied 209 votes (just under half of what he won in the primaries) during the roll call.

If the same holds true in Denver, Clinton will get at least 800 votes in a roll call, even if she refuses to be nominated and asks her delegates to support Obama.

It Doesn’t Matter If Hillary Is Nominated or Not