How Bloomberg and Sanders Could Decide the Democratic Race

Neither will win the nomination, but by accumulating delegates one of them may determine who does.

By Paul Starr |

Carrie Antlfinger/AP Photo

The 2020 Democratic National Convention will be held at the Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee’s new downtown arena, which opened in the summer of 2018. Photo-March 2019.

The news about Michael Bloomberg’s enormous opening ad buy for his presidential campaign—$30 million for TV ads just this week—raises again the question of what he’s up to. When Bloomberg signaled he was entering the race for the Democratic nomination, commentators overwhelmingly scoffed that he had no chance of winning. That’s almost certainly true, if winning means winning the nomination.

But there’s another possibility. Bloomberg and several other candidates—here I include Bernie Sanders—may be running to accumulate delegates in the hope of influencing the final choice of the Democratic convention, even if they’re not the nominee.

Both in their late seventies, Bloomberg and Sanders are well past the age of any previous major-party nominee and on that basis alone might be counted out. For most of their careers, they weren’t Democrats and consequently don’t have the trust of many people in the party. And just as the convention will likely have an anti-Bloomberg majority, so it will likely have an anti-Sanders majority. But none of this means that one of them can’t be a decisive influence on the party’s nominee, depending on how the nomination battle develops.

Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats don’t have winner-take-all primaries; delegates are allocated proportionally under a complex formula that awards them to candidates who garner at least 15 percent of the primary or caucus vote in a district or statewide. The new rules adopted in August 2018 for the 2020 nomination also deny superdelegates a vote on the first ballot.

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