During a recent online political discussion that I participated in, someone made the claim that some of Hillary Clinton's delegates were stolen by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2008. This person then went on to claim that this "theft" of delegates was the deciding factor in Clinton's loss of the Democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama in 2008. But was this really the case?
The person making this claim was referring to delegates from the states of Michigan and Florida. In 2008, both Michigan and Florida decided to hold their primaries very early in the season, despite warnings from the DNC that it would strip them of their convention delegates if they did. Undeterred, both states held their primaries when they had originally decided to. The DNC then made good on its threat and stripped both states of all of their convention delegates before any votes were cast in the 2008 primary season.
This action by the DNC rendered both states' primaries nothing more than "beauty contests." As a result, Barack Obama, John Edwards, and most of the other major candidates decided not to put their names on the ballot in those states. They did it partially in deference to the traditionally early caucus and primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. They did not want to risk offending the voters in those states by competing in the contests in other states that were infringing on their time-honored tradition of going first. Besides, there were no delegates to be gained by competing in the Michigan and Florida primaries. They saw those states as a lose-lose situation, and therefore avoided them like the plague.
Hillary Clinton, other the other hand, decided to gamble on Michigan and Florida. She felt that the DNC would eventually concede and grant delegate slates to both states at the convention. She reasoned that the Democratic Party would not want to do something that would alienate two states that the eventual nominee would need to win in the fall. She also assumed that if she won big in those states – as she was probably going to as the only major candidate on the ballot – she would get the lion's share of the delegates that were eventually allocated.
Well, Clinton turned out to be right – and wrong. She was right in assuming that the DNC would not want to alienate Michigan and Florida by not allowing them to have any delegates at the convention. Therefore, she was also right in assuming that Michigan and Florida would be allotted some convention delegates. However, she was wrong in her assumption that she would get the biggest majority of them.
In June of that year, after all of the primaries and caucuses had been completed, a DNC subcommittee held a meeting and assigned Clinton and Obama about the same number of Michigan and Florida delegates, despite the fact that Clinton had won both states overwhelmingly and Obama was not on the ballot in either. Clinton and her supporters were furious at this outcome, which allowed Obama to maintain his delegate lead and eventually win the nomination. Clinton was counting on overtaking him, had the delegate allocation gone the way she had wanted.
So, despite what some bitter Clinton supporters may think to this day, no delegates were ever stolen from her. She basically gambled on a particular outcome and lost. And how fair would it have been to award Clinton the majority of the Michigan and Florida delegates when the DNC had decided up front that no delegates would be awarded for those states? That would have amounted to changing the rules in the middle of the game. Obama and others had based their decision not to complete in those states on the fact that there were no delegates up for grabs.