With the odds increasing that they will not have a clear presidential nominee before June, Democratic Party leaders are preparing for the possibility that they might have to plan the remainder of their national convention without a candidate.
Yet, convention planners, party leaders and Democrats in the House and Senate say they still have plenty of time to pull it together before the four-day event begins in Denver in late August. Those officials argued that they have done enough legwork to be ready to kick off the convention even if neither Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) nor Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) secures the nomination beforehand.
“The nuts and bolts, the logistics of the convention are the logistics, regardless of the nominee,” said Leah Daughtry, chief executive officer for the Democratic National Convention. “On Aug. 25, we have to be ready. We don’t get another day. We’re planning to be ready in that hall when that gavel drops.”
Daughtry said organizers got off to “an early start” with the selection of the convention dates and location. Also, she said party officials continue to be “on pace or ahead of pace in terms of planning and logistics.”
Much of the preparation has been under way for months, with national Democrats working to make available lodging, transportation and convention space for the thousands of visitors to Denver. Most of that work can be done without the presidential nominee in place, but the candidate typically teams with national party players well in advance to put his or her stamp on the overall message, framework and program for the four-day event.
The presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), already has dispatched his staff to coordinate with the Republican National Committee to help organize his party’s convention. The GOP holds its nominating event in Minneapolis beginning Sept. 1.
McCain’s head start in planning what’s typically a ceremonial exercise is just the latest example of how a protracted Democratic primary could create challenges for the party in the coming months. As Obama and Clinton fight for delegates, many Democrats have voiced concern that the lengthy campaign could hurt party unity and lessen their chances to take back the White House in November.
Also, Democrats still are wrestling with whether and how to seat delegates from Michigan and Florida, where officials defied the Democratic National Committee and held their primaries too early. The DNC so far has refused to allow delegates from the two states to participate based on those earlier primaries, both of which favored Clinton but in which neither candidate campaigned.
Even with all those elements in play, party insiders say they don’t believe Obama and Clinton will continue to do battle until they convene in Denver. Still, they say, they are planning for every contingency and insist it won’t take long for the Democratic nominee to line up preferred convention speakers and coordinate his or her theme, message and ideas with the event.
“There’s still plenty of time,” insisted Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.). “The convention planning is moving with full force; we are way ahead of Boston and L.A. The logistics — all that is happening.”