The end of the presidential nomination fights is closer than you think

Today’s nomination battles are hot, hot, hot. What’s going to happen when they’re over?

Sometimes it seems these contests go on forever. Yet this year’s fights may effectively end soon.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton could wrap up the nomination by mid-March. No, it’s not due to the superdelegates supporting her by a large margin. Instead, it’s because of Clinton’s support from a key part of the Democratic coalition — black voters — which ranges from very strong to overwhelming.

Hillary Clinton at a forum in Denmark, South Carolina on Feb. 12. Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Hillary Clinton at a forum in Denmark, South Carolina on Feb. 12. Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

In Nevada, Clinton won black voters by a stunning 54-point margin. Democratic presidential candidates can’t win the nomination if they lose those voters by such strong numbers.

Bernie Sanders’ limited experience with black voters throughout his political career is his greatest political weakness. Pointing to his civil rights activism 50 years ago isn’t enough to overcome the issue and relationship advantages Clinton has with the black community. But if Clinton doesn’t keep her edge with nonwhite Democrats, Sanders will probably prevail.

Right now it looks like a Clinton win in South Carolina will precede big wins for Clinton in most of the March 1 Super Tuesday contests, particularly the states that are as diverse or more diverse than the country as a whole. Her small lead in delegates from primaries and caucuses so far will grow.

By March 15, seven of the 10 largest states — Texas, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia and North Carolina — will have chosen delegates. All of these have Democratic party electorates that look different from mostly white Iowa and New Hampshire.

On the Republican side, Donald Trump is the clear frontrunner but the situation may be more fluid than his lead suggests. He probably will win many contests quite quickly. But with Jeb Bush dropping out and perhaps Ben Carson and John Kasich to follow soon, the anti-Trump vote will become less divided.

Thus far there has been no significant firepower aimed at Trump but the very real possibility he could become the Republican nominee could prompt a major assault benefiting another candidate.

But can the parties come together around their eventual nominees?

Caucuses and primaries, town meetings and debates, contacts from campaigns and television ads often fray tempers within political parties.

During the heat of nomination battles, the most committed people seem to become extensions of campaign staff. They push talking points that puff up one’s candidate and denigrate opponents.

In our social media age, all sorts of material whizzes around — memes and videos and rumors and sometimes even facts and solid analysis. Put out on multiple platforms, these get liked, flamed, trolled and debated. When people are really attached to a candidate, they can get upset during primaries and caucuses, and it’s emotionally very hard if he or she loses the nomination.

But let’s remember how things went for Democrats in 2008. That nomination fight went on until June. Obama won most delegates from primaries and caucuses despite getting fewer votes from those contests. Despite some Clinton supporters saying they would never vote for Obama, after Clinton endorsed Obama and campaigned energetically for him, nearly all voted for him in the general election.

The candidates who lose the nomination usually do what Clinton did in 2008. If that happens, those candidates will bring a lot of supporters to the nominees.

Studies by political scientists on “divisive primaries” find that, in recent years, competitive, pitched nomination fights can but often don’t hurt the eventual nominee.

Our political parties are so different that voters and leaders see how much it matters who is president. The recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia heightens the importance of the race.

Given the dismay some Republican pundits and officials have with the xenophobic, racist and demagogic Donald Trump, it’s possible that if he’s the nominee, the party won’t unite as usual. Trump’s statements about Latinos undermine the party’s goal of attracting more of this group, which is growing faster than any other segment of the population. Finding a credible running mate might even be hard for him.

But typically, as nominations wrap up, the intraparty heat drops as presidential choices are defined for the next stage of political heat, the general election campaign.

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Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.