Hillary Clinton’s health scare yesterday has led to talk, probably premature, about what would happen if a candidate was forced to leave the presidential race. It is quite likely that Clinton really does have pneumonia, and that she will soon recover. The manner in which the story was handled has led to continued speculation, such as by David Shuster on Twitter and Cokie Roberts on Morning Edition, that the Democrats might be looking for a replacement candidate. Former DNC Chair Dan Fowler has also called for a contingency plan. While unlikely to happen, it is an intriguing question, and with the ages of both nominees it is not inconceivable that a candidate could be forced to leave the race. Politico did provide some information as to what would occur, with Fowler suggesting a more detailed process:
If Clinton could not physically continue her candidacy, she would have to voluntarily cede her nomination, creating a vacancy at the top of the national ticket. If she did, party procedures give the chair of the DNC authority to call a “special meeting” to vote on a replacement nominee. In this case, because chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned in July, her successor, Brazile, has that authority.
“The locus of activity for all of those political questions would then move to the 447 members of the Democratic National Committee,” said Elaine Kamarck, a two-decade veteran of the DNC Rules Committee. “And it’s wide open, and all of the political concern would work out in the context of discussions among the members of the DNC.”
Fowler argued that the party would be wise to immediately set up an even more detailed process for those who might seek to be Clinton’s successor — from a signature-gathering requirement to a process for receiving nominations during the DNC meeting. All of which, he said, would help ensure confidence in the process and lead toward a broad coalescing around a successor candidate.
There is more on the topic here, here, here, and here. The key facts are that Clinton would have to agree to give up the nomination. The Democratic National Committee would then chose her replacement. The later it occurs, the more chaotic matters would be because of missing deadlines to change the candidate in various states. This may or may not matter in different states as it is possible that in many states Clinton’s name would still remain on the ballot, but electors would then vote for the new Democratic nominee in the electoral college.
The DNC could conceivably choose Bernie Sanders as the second place candidate after the primaries, but I have my doubts that the Democratic establishment would do that. After all, if not for the Democratic establishment tilting the race towards Clinton in the first place, it is very likely that Sanders would have won the nomination. Joe Biden is the most likely replacement due to his name recognition and popularity. Other plausible choices include John Kerry and Elizabeth Warren.
If Clinton were to leave the race, the timing could also make a huge difference in what occurs. At this point I doubt Tim Kaine would be the choice as so far the vice presidential candidates have not had that much exposure. However, if Clinton should leave the race after the Vice Presidential debates, and should Kaine have an outstanding performance, he might also be considered.
The timing could also have a tremendous impact on the election results. Under normal circumstances a party losing its nominee would be placed at a disadvantage. In this case, running against a Republican candidate as awful as Donald Trump, a late entry could still have an excellent chance. A different candidate might actually do better than Clinton considering how unpopular she is. The timing could also be important here. A different candidate would have a better chance if entering the race soon, when there is still time to campaign. Whether it occurs after the debates could also be crucial. Should Trump manage to appear credible in a debate against Clinton, it would be harder for someone entering the race late to compete.
Again, this is all pure speculation. It is unlikely that Clinton will leave the race, but the unprecedented situation of a late change in candidates does make for an interesting story.