Looking ahead to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) next week in Philadelphia, we interviewed Rep. Mark Cohen, a delegate and a high political official. Cohen is a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from District 202 in Philadelphia. Having served in the House for 43 years, he holds the record for longest-serving state House member in Pennsylvania history. He also holds important positions, including chair of the vital House State Government Committee.
Cohen was brought up in a politically attuned household: his father, David, spent 29 years on the Philadelphia City Council. David Cohen was a familiar figure in all civic works and events throughout the city. Mark has fully lived up to his father’s record.
During our interview, we asked Cohen about the strength of the Jewish influence in the Democratic Party today. There are certainly a number of minorities that have grown larger, while our group has shrunk – at least numerically. But Cohen says the influence of the Jewish community “has never been higher.” He points to the success of Sen. Sanders, a Jew by birth, who carried 22 states in the Democratic primaries.
As a delegate to the DNC, Cohen is an advocate of a distinctly liberal viewpoint. However, he says there will be no floor fight over the platform. The deal between the Clinton and Sanders teams will hold, eliminating much of the potential excitement over the direction of the liberal movement. On Cohen’s scale of desirable policies, measuring from the left wing, he says the compromise platform provides “80% of what we wanted.”
The big issue for the convention and the Democratic Party, according to Cohen, is the party rule for presidential nominating conventions that authorizes superdelegates. It is inherently arbitrary, according to Cohen, and also a target: Hillary Clinton was able to pick up 400 convention votes before the very first primary.
Cohen proposes that superdelegates be eliminated or, if continued, that they be required to cast their votes in accordance with the primary election results. In other words, if Sen. Sanders polled almost half the votes in the Pennsylvania primary, he should get almost half the Pennsylvania delegation’s superdelegate votes at the nominating convention.
At the convention, in Cohen’s approach, the Pennsylvania delegation could register a split vote which would mirror the primary election results. Or, the delegation could follow a unit rule in which the candidate who won the primary would get all the votes at the convention. In either case, the vote in the primary election would decide the outcome at the convention, not influenced by a select core of delegates who did not run in the primary.
Why are there superdelegates at all in the Democratic Party rules? Many of us recall a time when there was no such category (although political leaders somehow got to the convention anyway). Jill Lepore writes in The New Yorker:
In 1976, at the G.O.P. Convention, in Kansas City, Ronald Reagan challenged Gerald Ford and, very narrowly, lost. Jimmy Carter, who’d won a lot of primaries, won the Democratic nomination and even the election, but after his failed Presidency many Democrats regretted binding their delegates to the primaries. In 1980, at the Democratic National Convention, in New York City, Ted Kennedy tried to challenge Carter but was defeated by the rules. That’s why, in 1984, the D.N.C. invented superdelegates, high-status Party officials who are pledged to no one candidate. This year, a lot of Republicans are regretting binding their delegates to the primaries.
If there were no superdelegates, could the Democratic Party nomination be hijacked by some wealthy, fast- talking, populist outsider? Cohen is convinced that there is enough continuity in party matters that this would not occur. And depending on the events and rules drafted in Philadelphia next week, the Democrats just might get to find out, at least in future elections.