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Why AP isn’t using ‘presumptive nominee’ to describe leading presidential candidates

WASHINGTON (AP) — There often comes a time in modern presidential campaigns when the last bit of drama has been drained out of a party nomination fight and the crowning of the eventual standard-bearer seems like a foregone conclusion. But we’re not there yet.

Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump are the front-runners for their respective parties’ presidential nominations. Though you may start to hear them referred to as their parties’ “presumptive nominees,” The Associated Press only uses that term once a candidate has captured the number of delegates needed to win a majority vote at the national party conventions this summer.

That point won’t come until after more states have voted. For both Republicans and Democrats, the earliest it could happen is March.

A presidential candidate doesn’t officially become the Republican or Democratic nominee until winning the vote on the convention floor. But it hasn’t always been this way. Decades ago, presidential candidates might have run in primaries and caucuses, but the contests were mostly ornamental in nature, and the eventual nominees weren’t known until delegates and party bosses hashed things out themselves at the conventions.

Today, the tables have turned. Now, it’s the conventions that are largely ornamental, and it’s the votes cast in primaries and caucuses that decide the nominees. Because of this role reversal, for the last half-century or so, the eventual nominees were known before the conventions, sometimes long before the conventions or even long before they’d won enough delegates to unofficially clinch the nomination.

Nonetheless, the AP won’t call anyone the “presumptive nominee” until a candidate has reached the so-called magic number of delegates needed for a majority at the convention. That’s true even if the candidate is the only major competitor still in the race.

For Republicans, that magic number is 1,215; for Democrats, it’s more of a moving target but currently stands at about 1,969.

Robert Yoon, The Associated Press


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