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October 2, 2014

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Thought the caucuses were wild? Just wait

Clark County convention could devolve into free-for-all

How Nevada Democrats choose their delegates for the Democratic National Convention

  • What will happen: Nevada Democrats will send 25 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, who according to state party bylaws must vote for the candidate to whom they pledged support at the state convention. An additional nine superdelegates, who include members of the Democratic National Committee and past and present elected officials, and who are free to vote for whomever they choose, will attend the national convention.
  • Here’s how the pledged delegates get selected: At the Jan. 19 caucuses, each precinct elected delegates — about 7,500 statewide — to send to their respective county conventions. At Saturday’s Clark County convention, as many as 2,463 delegates, apportioned by assembly district, will be elected to attend the state convention in May. From the state total, 25 delegates will be elected to attend the national convention, to be held in Denver in August.

For all the chaos of the Jan. 19 state Democratic caucuses, it may pale in comparison with what happens Saturday when the elected delegates gather for the next step in the process.

About 7,000 Clark County Democrats are to gather at Bally’s to elect delegates to the state convention this spring in Reno.

The expectation would be that because New York Sen. Hillary Clinton won an 11-point victory over Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in Clark County, she would control a majority of the delegates at the county gathering. Her county delegates would elect pro-Clinton delegates for the state party convention — where pro-Clinton delegates would be selected for the party’s national convention in Denver.

Obama’s delegates would be doing the same.

But here’s the rub: The Clinton and Obama camps aren’t sure who their delegates are. And the state party organization knows the names of the delegates, but not which ones are pledged to which candidate.

Besides, the delegates aren’t even bound to vote one way or another.

So going into Saturday’s county convention, it’s unclear how many of the 7,000 delegates will show up, and whom they’ll support.

It is, in a sense, the caucuses all over again.

Because not all of the elected delegates are expected to show up Saturday for what may be an all-day affair, the county party will need alternative delegates to fill the holes.

And because anyone who participated in the Jan. 19 caucuses can be an alternate delegate, the candidates’ volunteers and remaining skeletal organizations are calling their supporters and telling them to show up at Bally’s.

Does this sound like a fiasco in waiting?

“I don’t know what to expect,” said Rory Reid, Clark County Commission chairman and Clinton’s state chairman. “We’ve never been in a position like this where the nomination is up in the air. Nevada has always been in the position that the county convention is nothing more than a pep rally. Now every delegate is being scrutinized.”

Because the candidates’ nationwide battle for delegates is so close, both campaigns are on guard against delegate poaching at the county convention. The reality is that with 7,000 delegates at the convention, and as many as 2,463 of them moving on to the state convention, meaningful poaching will be hard at the county level.

Still, the campaigns are frantically moving through the lists of delegates to determine which ones are their supporters and encouraging them to show up.

Here’s how Obama could overtake Clinton in Clark County, or how Clinton could expand her Nevada delegate lead:

A small number of supporters of former Sen. John Edwards will be at the convention, although he’s no longer in the race. The Obama and Clinton people will try to persuade Edwards delegates to move into their camp. Moreover, some delegates will be undecided.

Just as at the caucuses, there will be a first round of voting to determine who’s viable, and then a second round of voting. No doubt Clinton and Obama supporters will try to persuade the fence-sitters.

Here’s another scenario:

If a delegate doesn’t plan to show up, he can assign an alternate in writing. If there’s no alternate specified, the county party will choose an alternate with the same presidential choice and from the same precinct. But if Clinton or Obama doesn’t have enough alternates, the county party could be forced to lean on someone else who participated in the January caucuses — even if the person is from the opposing presidential camp.

That could lead to open warfare on the convention floor.

Aware of this possibility, the county party is going to great lengths this week to be organized, spokeswoman Erin Bilbray-Kohn said. It sent out postcards and e-mails to delegates. It has preregistered 1,000 and is asking delegates to register from 4 to 9 p.m. Friday at Bally’s. On Saturday, the county party will ask every participant to fill out a presidential preference form to ensure alternates don’t radically skew the results. The goal, she said, is to affirm the spirit of the Jan. 19 caucus results.

But the effort may stumble even as delegates are pouring their first cups of coffee. To call the meeting to order, the county party will need a quorum of about 2,500.

Nevada isn’t the only caucus state dealing with potential chaos. An Iowa Democratic Party official, who asked not to be named because he wasn’t authorized to talk on the record, said his local party is dealing with the same kinds of organizational headaches, mostly because this is the first time in memory county and state conventions actually mattered — and could affect the outcome of the presidential race.

If a fight breaks out at Bally’s on Saturday, there’s always this consolation: Comedian and Senate candidate Al Franken is scheduled to give the keynote address.

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