Now the curtain rises on Act II of the quadrennial American drama. Scene: the conventions. Enter the delegates — the most courted, yet least known supporting players in presidential campaigns.

The delegates are creatures of paradox. For months, the candidates have wooed them; for a glorious week, they will stand at the whirling hub of decision. Yet they are widely described as mere tools of the true decision makers. The great scholars of American politics have largely ignored them: neither Tocqueville nor Lord Bryce nor Sir Denis Brogan take them very seriously. Yet these...

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