Only two states have weighed in on the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, but already theories about a contested convention are swirling.
In the error-filled, first-in-the-nation vote in Iowa, it took a week to figure out who won. When the smoke finally cleared, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg received 14 delegates while Sen. Bernard Sanders — who got more popular votes — took 12. In the also-ran category, Sen. Elizabeth Warren pulled in 8, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden received 6 and Sen. Amy Klobuchar got 1.
In the New Hampshire primary, Mr. Sanders and Mr. Buttigieg tied with nine delegates each. Ms. Klobuchar got six, while Mr. Biden and Ms. Warren got goose eggs. In both Iowa and New Hampshire, the top three all got at least 18% of the vote while nobody got as high as 27%.
Candidates are striving to garner 1,991 delegates to win the party’s presidential nomination. But most states along the path distribute delegates proportionately, which means with so many candidates still in the race and several vying for the top, it’s possible no candidate will win a majority, which would send the decision to the Democratic National Committee convention in July.
With 8 candidates — there were 5 in 1992, 2 in 2000, 7 in 2004, 6 in 2008 and 2 in 2016, CNN reports — if a front-runner fades, another quickly takes over the spot, as has been the case with Mr. Biden and Ms. Warren fading and Mr. Sanders moving up. And in most recent national polls, no candidate even garners a quarter of the vote, meaning that at this late point there still is no clear favorite.
And that’s before even factoring in the new upstart in the race, former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
All that adds up to speculation about a brokered convention.
“It’s possible, it’s quite possible,” Chris Spirou, the former New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman, recently told The Hill. “I think Bloomberg entering into this thing provides a much greater possibility of a brokered convention.”
The latest forecast model from election site FiveThirtyEight shows that the chances of “no one” winning the nomination stands at 25%. Mr. Sanders has a 46% chance of winning half-plus-one of the pledged delegates, Mr. Biden 20% and both Mr. Buttigieg and Mr. Warren just 4%.
In past contests, candidates have dropped out after Iowa, and the results in New Hampshire have further winnowed the field. While the most marginal candidates did bail, like Sen. Cory A. Booker, who was polling at 0% in some surveys, the rest have stayed in the race, moving on to battles in Nevada, South Carolina, and, on March 3, Super Tuesday.
While Mr. Sanders is leading by 11 percentage points in one of the latest national polls, with Mr. Bloomberg in second, Mr. Biden leads Mr. Sanders by 8 points in South Carolina, and Mr. Sanders is tied with Mr. Bloomberg in Virginia. What’s more, some of the candidates have plenty of cash to last through Super Tuesday, when 14 states will hold their primaries. Some 1,357 of the 3,979 pledged delegates will be handed out that day.
And that might be it. Maybe by then, the top candidate will have emerged and other big guns will drop out. But some veteran politicos say if the race is still anybody’s to win, more candidates may stay in.
“There’s a real possibility of a brokered convention and that in itself may be enough to serve as motivation for some who might have otherwise dropped out, to hang around longer to see if they can’t have a place in this thing and play a part in determining the nominee,” Jim Demers, a veteran Democratic strategist in New Hampshire, told The Hill. “Resources will be key.”
The growing Democratic mess has sparked both internal battles among Democrats and viral conspiracy theories online.
Last week, conservative actor James Woods offered up one theory about the debacle in Iowa. “Just for giggles, imagine this: the #IowaCaucuses were not a snafu, but an engineered ‘cluster muck’ to keep the #Democrat field wide open. The #ImpeachmentSham was a way to air Biden’s corruption. The chaos leads to a brokered convention. Guess which drunken hag saves the day?” he tweeted.
Mr. Woods answered his own question. “The #Clintons are like nuclear cockroaches. They can survive anything. Remember you read it here: #HillaryClinton has a solid chance at being the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee in a brokered convention. She’s the Terminator of American politics.”
So strap in. The 2020 primary season is going to be a long one — and it might not end until the DNC convention in July.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @josephcurl.