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October 15, 2015

Yesterday Professor Ubertaccio analyzed Hillary Clinton’s commanding debate performance in It’s Hillary Clinton’s Party. I agree with his post, every jot and tittle. Except the title. I would like something more like The Party Decides on Hillary.

I hope that I am not being needlessly contentious. Instead I’m following the lessons of The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform, by Professors Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel, and John Zaller. The book makes a number of important contributions to understanding the Invisible Primary phase of the campaign, but I want to mention two. First, the party is made up not just of party officers and elected officials, but of an extended network of “intense policy demanders” who decide the nomination. Second, the key to understanding how the party decides is not in poll results or fundraising figures, but in endorsements. Endorsements signal a candidate’s acceptability to a wide coalition of the party’s policy demanders.

Professor Ubertaccio notes that Secretary Clinton palpitated the Democrats’ Nervous Nellie Caucus throughout the summer with her inability to handle the email controversy. The Nellies also fingered their worry beads as Clinton fell behind Bernie Sanders in some polls. Since the Democrats are not about to nominate a seventy-three year old socialist, activists speculated in the New York Times that the party might seek an alternative. They floated names like John Kerry, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden.

Now Professor Ubertaccio believes that the Biden boomlet is put to bed, and he is probably correct. Clinton’s performance is likely to have assuaged party insiders’ concerns about her ability to defeat the Republican nominee next November.

I chose the term “insiders” purposefully. There are various unreliable surveys out there concerning who won the debate, and I suppose some more trustworthy ones will be forthcoming. Ignore them all. They don’t matter, and neither do any of the national or state polls to date showing Clinton lagging behind Sanders. What matters is endorsements. So let’s consult The Endorsement Primary at fivethirtyeightpoltics.com, which tracks the endorsements of congressmen, senators, and governors, assigning different point totals based on their importance.

In the Democratic endorsement race, Clinton has amassed 361 points, Biden has 16 points, Sanders two points, and Martin O’Malley 1 point.  

(There is no clarity on the Republican side: Bush 36, Christie 25, Huckabee 24, Paul 15, Kasich 14, Cruz 8, Rubio 6, Graham 5, Fiorina 3, Santorum 1, Trump 0).

Why do endorsements matter? Endorsements show broad acceptance within the party. They offer an important cue to voters who pay little attention to politics. And endorsements constitute a promise to put the endorsers’ organizational and fund raising skills to work for the candidate.

Outsiders sometimes throw a scare into insiders by leading Invisible Primary polls or even taking an early contest: Gary Hart, Howard Dean, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Ben Carson, etc. Without support from party insiders though, they fade.

Hillary Clinton has always been judged trustworthy on issues the intense policy demanders care about; and if not, she is ready to “learn” enough to shift. She just had to show them an electable candidate, and she accomplished that on Tuesday night. Candidates run, but The Party Decides. It is overwhelmingly probable that the Democratic Party will decide on Hillary Clinton.

Bernie Sanders, The Party Decides, Hillary Clinton

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