Every member of the media seems to have a larger-than-life adjective to define the 23-state presidential primary election scheduled Tuesday from sea to shining sea.
How about “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”? The word is as nonsensical as the political task at hand for the remaining three Democratic (yes, Mike Gravel is still running) and four Republican presidential candidates. John McCain, one of the candidates still standing, describes Tuesday as the closest thing in U.S. history to a national primary.
It was the creation partly of California politicians who have felt left out of the process since 1968, when a June primary actually meant something in deciding who was nominated. California’s 1968 primary was the nation’s most tragic; Democrat Robert Kennedy was assassinated moments after being declared the winner and front-runner for the nomination. And his energized response to the crowd, “and on to Chicago” — the site of that year’s party convention — seconds before the gunshot will echo through the celebrations of the winning candidates Tuesday.
However, California, and its trove of delegates, isn’t winner-take-all for the Democrats or the Republicans, like it was in 1968. Instead, there are 53 congressional district elections for the Republican and Democratic candidates. Each of these 53 elections is winner-take-all for the Republicans, but each is a proportional contest for the Democrats.
Our 11th Congressional District, which overlaps the Bay Area and San Joaquin County, will elect three delegates to the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., and four delegates to the Democratic convention in Denver. In the GOP race, the candidate with the most votes gets all three delegates. However, the Democrats in California and across the nation scrapped simplicity for layers of mathematical and affirmative action equations.
We aren’t surprised that the Democratic National Committee turned the selection of California’s 441 delegates (about 11 percent of the national total) into rocket science. Even a political junkie would have to call an attorney to decipher the procedure. Unlike the Republican way, in which each district has three delegates (a formula that has been heavily criticized for giving too much weight to districts with the fewest registered Republicans), the Democrats weight the size of the district delegation on the percentage of registered Democrats.
Hence, Oakland’s 9th District has six convention delegates and Fresno’s 20th District has three. The 11th and 18th districts that include the Tracy area have four delegates each.
This is where counting delegates gets tricky — too tricky for most pundits. One delegate is allocated to each presidential candidate who receives 15 percent of the vote in a specific district; any candidate with 30 percent of the vote gets a second delegate. The exception is in districts with just three delegates, where the third delegate is awarded to the candidate with the most votes in that district’s election. The same policy is used in districts with five delegates.
That means elections in the districts with odd-number delegations are extremely important, since it is assumed Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will each receive at least 30 percent of the vote and will split the other delegates.
Watch for both campaigns to strategically concentrate on California’s 21 odd-number districts in the last hours before Tuesday.
Likewise, the Republican candidates will try to get the most bang for their buck by saturating the media in those congressional districts with the fewest registered Republicans — can you spell San Francisco?
It won’t be out of the question to wake up Wednesday morning and see the popular vote winner of one or both of the presidential primaries lose the delegate vote. Then the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious adjective will stick.