Mar 1, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Video explainer: How contested conventions work

Democrats are potentially headed into a potentially contested convention this summer. Below is a brief "Axios on HBO" video explainer with Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings Institution on how it would go down.

State of play: Sen. Bernie Sanders is currently leading the delegate count, with former Vice President Joe Biden trailing closely after winning South Carolina's primary on Saturday.

Where it stands... As Kamarck puts it: "A contested convention is a convention where going into the convention nobody really knows who's gonna win a first-ballot nomination."

  • A nominee is typically declared by whomever has earned a majority of delegates in the primaries — a benchmark that potentially no Democrat will reach this round.
  • Candidates still standing at a theoretically contested convention must then try and earn 51% of the vote from delegates in the convention hall.
  • Contenders may go about that by lobbying supporters of weaker candidates, and targeting undecided delegates.

Between the lines: Kamarck notes, "In the old days, the big bargaining chip was the vice presidency. And frankly, that would probably still be the bargaining chip in today's world because you would have these arranged marriages."

  • Kamarck suggested: "Biden-Warren might be an arranged marriage. Certainly Biden-Sanders would be an arranged marriage. Or Sanders-Biden would be very much an arranged marriage."

She also suggested that billionaire Michael Bloomberg could be an outlier in the dynamic.

  • "[Bloomberg] could do well enough to come into the convention with several hundred delegates. At this point, I'd say he's probably more likely to be a kingmaker than the king, although anything's possible when you're spending that kind of money," Kamarck notes.
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