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POLITICAL FORECAST : If Clinton Slips, Will the Convention Be Brokered?

James MacGregor Burns, scholar at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, Richmond University, and emeritus professor of political science, Williams College:

My guess is that if Jerry Brown does well in New York, then they’ll be the old swing of the pendulum--cut down the front-runner.

If there’s a really sweeping Brown victory, which is presumably possible, I think that would make a brokered convention very, very likely.

Mario M. Cuomo would be the likely player. There’s a lot of feeling in this country for Cuomo. He has the best chance in a brokered convention. After all, the convention is in New York, he is presumably giving a keynote speech as governor--all that has to be figured in.

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Speaking as a frequent former delegate to conventions--a convention has its own psychology, its own politics, knows its own mind, and it can put the rules aside.

James David Barber, professor of political science, Duke University:

I would be surprised if the New York primary bopped it away for Bill Clinton. I would be surprised if there was some kind of protest vote going for Brown, no matter what he says. Clinton’s got problems, but the probability of his finally coming across (to the voters) is likely.

Barbara Kellerman, adjunct professor of political science, George Washington University:

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If Clinton loses New York or his victory margin is embarrassingly meager, the chances of a brokered convention increase. I don’t think anyone wants a brokered convention, least of all the professional Democratic pols who are trembling in their boots that this will happen. If it does, I do not look for a long shot like Cuomo. They probably would turn to Lloyd Bentsen, Al Gore, Richard A. Gephardt and so forth, who, however, would have their own set of liabilities in a year in which being the consummate insider is hardly the winning ticket.

Larry Sabato, professor of government, University of Virginia:

I would expect that Clinton would have to lose a whole series of primaries in order for a brokered convention to go forward. Even if he loses all the remaining primaries, he’ll probably be within a couple hundred delegates of being nominated. It’s tough to stop somebody who’s that close, given the number of floating and uncommitted delegates who want to make sure they go with the nominee.

Rogers Smith, professor of political science, Yale University:

I think there’s a very real chance there will be a brokered convention if Clinton suffers a setback in New York, particularly if it’s compounded by the Wisconsin primary. The super delegates will perceive him as a very high-risk candidate. There will be efforts to get a prominent Democrat to enter. Candidates include Cuomo, Bentsen and Sam Nunn. Any such candidate will face the serious liability that he or she will not have been tested in the primaries. It’s not all certain that such a candidate could actually prevail--even in a brokered convention--over Clinton, who will come in with a large number of committed delegates.

The super delegates, I think, will be talking among themselves in traditional, smoke-filled room fashion, trying to decide whether they can agree on one alternative candidate. Clearly, if three or four people throw their hats in the ring at the last minute, that will only sow confusion and Clinton would undoubtedly prevail. The only way that someone could take it away from Clinton is if there were a lot of unified support for that candidate from the Democratic Party leaders who are the super delegates.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, the most likely scenario at this point is that whoever gets nominated will be someone who is not perceived as having a lot of electoral momentum, and some parts of the party will be significantly dissatisfied with the candidate.

Kathy Smith, associate professor of politics, Wake Forest University:

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I do not believe there will be a brokered convention. You have in New York a move toward trying to have Cuomo come in very late in the race. They want an outsider. They’ve always wanted an outsider. If there’s a good vote for Brown, it’s a indication that they are going for someone who seems more the underdog. But I don’t see that following beyond New York. It’s more a New York phenomenon.

Robert Dallek, professor of history, UCLA:

What makes the question of a brokered convention so difficult to answer is that the old lines of authority and power in the Democratic Party have been shattered. You don’t have the kind of situation you used to have, when you had bosses, people who had a kind of influence that counted for a great deal. So what does a brokered convention mean? Who are going to be the brokers? Thomas S. Foley? Gephardt? Nunn? Bill Bradley? Gore? These are not men who control the party the way an LBJ or an FDR did.


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