It’s been known for months that this convention would officially nominate Barack Obama for president, but never before has there been so much speculation and negotiation about how the mechanics of the vote that would formally anoint the nominee.
In the modern era, the roll call vote — even in years like 2004, when virtually every delegate arrived at the convention pledged to the same candidate — has been carefully choreographed with an eye to the general election, with a swing state being selected ahead of time to cast the decisive votes to put the nominee over the top. (To make sure this happens, bigger states are typically asked to pass, thus ensuring that the nominee won’t go over the top ahead of schedule.) For instance, Ohio got the honors as the 2004 convention that nominated John Kerry — not that this distinction helped Kerry much in the state in the fall. Then again, at the 1992 convention, Ohio was chosen to put Bill Clinton over the top; in November, the state once again came through, pushing Clinton past the 270 electoral vote threshold that offically made him president-elect.
This year, Obama’s campaign decided that it was more important to use the roll call to make a statement about party unity than to target a particular states. Thus, the roll call proceeded as usual (with California and its 400+ delegates passing) all the way to New Mexico, the last state alphabetically before New York. At that point, Obama had over 1,500 votes, with 2,210 needed to secure the nomination. Clinton had fewer than 400. New Mexico’s chairman then yielded to Illinois, Obama’s home state, which then yieled to New York — a show of unity and cooperation that allowed Clinton to grab the microphone and make the pivotal motion to suspend the rules and nominate her primary foe by acclamation.