The Green Papers Commentary

Why Bill Bradley Won't Be The Democratic Presidential Nominee

Tuesday, November 2, 1999

"The Green Papers" Staff

They once called him "Dollar Bill". Not because he had a lot of money but because he WAS "Money"- that is, a player who could be counted on to deliver in the clutch, when the team needed his skills the most. Bill Bradley's clutch ability in Basketball was behind three Ivy League championships for the Tigers of Princeton and then two storied Championships for the professional New York Knickerbockers: NBA titles which Knicks fans still savor to this day because the team hasn't won another one since.

Bill Bradley delivered in the clutch politically as well. In 1978, he won a U.S. Senate seat for the Democrats which had been held for years by a moderate Republican: sure he did it against the neo-conservative who had upset the moderate in the GOP Primary, but 1978 was also the same year which first elected Newt Gingrich to Congress and you couldn't even SPELL "Newt Gingrich" without using the letters in "New Right". Twelve years later, Bradley pulled one out against an upstart Republican named Christine Todd Whitman who had strongly challenged his re-election: yes, Christie rode her near-upset all the way to the Jersey State House three years later, but "Dollar Bill" lived to fight in the Senate another six.

Now Bill Bradley faces his biggest challenge: trying to take the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination away from an incumbent Vice President who is clearly the choice of the incumbent President of the United States to be his successor. "Dollar Bill" will need to call upon his entire life's story of "clutch" and "Money" to pull THIS one out but he will, in the end, find himself a dollar too late and a dime too short. It's "game time" but the game is already rigged against him: it's as if Bill has to work the 24 second shot clock while Al can take as long as he wants when the ball is in his possession.

The reason is simple: just four little letters- PLEO. Put the word "Unpledged" in front of those letters and the buzzer has just sounded before the game has even begun. PLEO stands for "Party Leader/Elected Official". It is a legacy of what once was referred to as the "Superdelegate" in the Democratic Party nominating process: voting delegates on the floor of the Convention who were not chosen as part of the grueling Primary/Caucus process. It is the remnant of the more moderate to conservative Democratic Party leadership's attempt to staunch the liberal tide of reform which had swept the party during the 1970's, reform which the less than liberal elements of the party blamed for the ability of Ted Kennedy to "embarrass" Jimmy Carter in the "Donkey War" of 1980.

The moderates' solution was to make those who controlled the party a significant minority of the Democratic National Convention population by automatically designating them delegates to the Convention. Thus was born the concept of the "Superdelegate", automatic delegates who would be officially "Uncommitted"- not pledged to any particular candidate. Yet most of these could not be expected to remain unpledged in their hearts when the race for the nomination was close: just ask Gary Hart circa 1984 whom the Democratic hierarchy supported THAT year!

Now these one-time "Superdelegates" are given the blatantly bureaucratic sobriquet of "Unpledged PLEO" and there will be 799 of these (give or take) out of some 4336 (again, give or take) delegates at the 43d Democratic National Convention. That's more than 18 percent, just in case you were unable to whip out your calculators. And every single one of them will be a Democratic Party functionary, whether a member of Congress or the party chairman of a large County. Moreover, the vast majority of these will be dedicated to one man: another Bill, surname of Clinton.

You see, most of these Unpledged PLEOs have gone to the wall for this other Bill- let's call him "Almighty Dollar Bill" because the Treasury Department is, after all, an Executive Branch bailiwick- whether it was Impeachment or Kosovo, and "Almighty Dollar Bill" has, in turn, gone to the wall for them- whether it was in dealing Peace in the Middle East or dealing with flooding in the Midwest. These Unpledged PLEOs will not be uncommitted in private, nor can they be: they will instead go wherever Bill Clinton tells them, whether expressedly or impliedly, to go and, therefore, it can be safely said that more than 700 of the not quite 800 will go over to Al Gore.

Let's do some quick math here: if Al Gore beats out Bill Bradley by a score of, say, 709-90 among the Unpledged PLEOs, the original "Dollar Bill" will have to press hard to get 2079 of the 3537 pledged delegates. In other words, Bradley would need to get nearly 59 percent of the delegates being fought over in the primaries and caucuses in order to just nip the V.P. at the post! Since most of the Democratic presidential primaries are of the Proportional type, Bradley would pretty much have to average- AVERAGE, mind you!- close to 60 percent of the primary and caucus vote throughout the pre-Convention season. How many of you would take that bet? After all, there is no point spread in Politics.

No, I'm afraid there will be no buzzer-beating jump shot in this particular game for "Dollar Bill", no matter how many newsmagazines deem Bradley to have the "hot hand" or how far Vice President Gore has to move his campaign headquarters from the Beltway. There will be no "triple double" recorded in the stat sheets for THIS contest: the numbers just aren't there. Now if only most political pundits could count!

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