Democratic Primaries

Suzanne Lynch Washington Correspondent

The process to choose the Democratic nominee to take on Donald Trump in November’s US presidential election is well under way.

States across the country are in the process of choosing their preferred candidate, either through a primary contest or a caucus. A primary is a traditional election where eligible voters select their candidate privately through a ballot system. A caucus is a public process which sees voters align publicly with their chosen candidate at caucus sites.

Based roughly on their share of the vote in each state - states have different rules - candidates are assigned a number of “delegates”, which will be sent to represent each state at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in July.

On March 3rd – Super Tuesday – 14 states and one overseas territory voted. After a faltering start to the primaries that almost saw him written off, former vice-president Joe Biden got his campaign firmly on track with victory in nine states. Though Vermont senator Bernie Sanders finished first in four states, including delegate-rich California, Super Tuesday checked the Sanders momentum after a strong opening to the primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

On March 10th six more states vote, with most of the remaining primaries taking place throughout March and April. The final primary contest takes place on June 7th. However, by the end of March, well over 50 per cent of the delegates will have been allocated.

In order to be selected as the party’s nominee at the convention in July, a candidate needs a majority of 50 per cent of delegates plus one, so the magic number is 1,991 pledged delegates out of the total of 3,979.

However, with four candidates remaining in the race - Elizabeth Warren and Tulsi Gabbard complete the field, after Michael Bloomberg’s withdrawal - it is possible that no one candidate will have a majority of delegates when Democrats convene in July.

Though the rules were changed after the 2016 convention following tensions between the Sanders and Hillary Clinton campaigns, so-called superdelegates - unpledged delegates - still play a role. These are senior members of the party – governors, former members of Congress, etc. Their 771 votes come into play if the convention is contested, which is a possibility.

Notably, six of the candidates were asked during a debate in Las Vegas on February 19th if they would support the idea of a candidate winning the nomination if they secured a plurality but not a majority of the delegates. All but one – Sanders – said they were opposed to this. The issue may become a headache for the Democratic Party as the primary process progresses.

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