Suspending vs. Withdrawing

Hillary Clinton will suspend her campaign Saturday. But what does it mean to “suspend” your operation rather than drop out?

The question comes up every four years, and the answer remains largely the same: It lets the candidate hold on to his or her delegates. In 2000, Slate ’s Ted Rose explained :

The two national parties set the rules for the selection and responsibilities of their delegates. (All states have their own laws regarding delegates, but in recent decades the U.S. Supreme Court has struck them down, ruling that the parties can set the policies.) Democrats dictate their policy from the top down: All delegates are pledged, but not bound, to reflect the conscience of the candidate they were chosen to represent.

For Clinton, “suspending” allows her to keep adding to her delegate totals. Some caucus states still haven’t held their state conventions. (Iowa’s is June 17.) By “suspending” rather than dropping out, Clinton can continue picking up delegates who might not be named yet.

It also lets her keep her promises to delegates she picked to attend the Democratic National Convention in August. If she dropped out entirely, she would keep her district-level delegates but lose control over statewide delegates. By suspending, she keeps both.

That doesn’t mean she’ll wield much power at the convention. Any decision made about the party platform or rules still requires a majority vote, which means Obama’s in charge. But Clinton’s delegates could still try to influence decisions. “If some of her supporters were greatly exercised about one particular issue and it was important to her political future that she extract a concession on the platform,” then she could exert some pressure, explained William Mayer of Northeastern University. But that’s unlikely to happen. Once you endorse the nominee, you’re effectively telling your delegates to support him or her on all counts.

Some people think it also helps Clinton continue to raise funds to pay off her more than $20 million in debt. But the FEC’s Bob Biersack said it makes no difference. “The word suspend doesn’t have any campaign-finance implications,” he said. “Even if she said she’s withdrawing from the race, she could continue to raise money to pay off her debts no matter what.” If she had opted for public financing, then suspending vs. withdrawing would matter, since you can’t take matching funds for money raised after you drop out. But this year, only John Edwards chose to take public funds.