LOS ANGELES -- Last Thursday, about a year too late, I read the "2008 Delegate Selection Rules for the Democratic National Convention." Not a fun read, I must add, which may be the reason Sen. Hillary Clinton, or her people, and most of the press, did not read or understand its 25 dense pages.
Sen. Barack Obama, or his people, obviously studied the thing, and that is the reason he will probably be his party's nominee for president of the United States.
The document, adopted by the Democratic National Committee on Aug. 19, 2006, is filled with the kind of fairness rhetoric the party has been spouting for at least 40 years. Samples:
"State Democratic Parties shall ensure that district lines used in the delegate selection process are not gerrymandered to discriminate against African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian/Pacific Americans or women."
"Each state affirmative action program shall include outreach provisions to encourage the participation and representation of persons of low and moderate income, and a specific plan to help defray expenses of those delegates otherwise unable to participate in the national convention."
That's nice. More important is the fine print:
"Seventy-five percent (75%) of each state's base delegation shall be elected at the congressional district level or smaller ...
"Delegates shall be allocated in a fashion that fairly reflects the expressed presidential preference or uncommitted status of the primary voters or, if there is no binding primary, the convention and/or caucus participants."
In other words, using terms of political art, the Democrats have rejected "winner-take-all" elections in favor of "proportional representation." The best example of that is what happened in Texas: Clinton won 50.9 percent of the overall vote to 47.4 percent for Obama. But because of the way the votes were divided by counties, Obama won 99 delegates to 94 for Clinton.
Understanding the rule, the Obama campaign campaigned everywhere, in primary elections and caucuses in even the smallest states. Two weeks before the Delaware election, polls showed Clinton ahead by 10 percent or more. Obama campaigned there, Clinton did not, and he won the state by 2 percentage points. More important, he won nine delegates to her six.
The same thing happened in small state after state, which is why Obama is ahead in the delegate count. If states still had winner-take-all primaries, Clinton, who won more votes in California, New York and Texas, would have easily won the nomination. But again, she had not read the rules and Obama had.
There was a myth at the center of the Clinton campaign, the idea that she and her husband, the former president, had a nationwide organization ready to knock on every door in America. Not so. The Clintons had many friends, but no organization. Bill and Hillary were always top-down, media candidates. Obama's manager, David Axelrod, a former Chicago Tribune reporter, did build a national knock-on-any-door campaign, an old-fashioned Chicago-style campaign -- and it worked.
It is hard not to feel sorry for Hillary Clinton. She expected her campaign to be a walkover, and there she was like a deer in the headlights when the Obama Express came roaring down the tracks. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This is not a new thing in presidential politics. In my experience, the new guys, new managers, usually win. And Axelrod was the new guy, as Karl Rove was the new guy in 2000, and before him there was James Carville and George Stephanopoulos, Lee Atwater, Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell.
The new guys win because they have to learn the rules from scratch. The old guys play by old rules, run the same old campaigns that worked before -- and it is often too late for them when they realize the game has changed. Poor Hillary and her strategist Mark Penn just didn't get it.