Is it Time To Worry about Superdelegates in the Clinton-Obama Contest?

| Fri Feb. 8, 2008 10:25 AM PST

Omigod! Here come the superdelegates! The Washington Post's Paul Kane has done the math and reached the conclusion that the Democratic presidential race will be decided by superdelegates--those 800 or so party officials and officeholders who are automatically awarded delegate status and who can vote any which way they please at the convention. Kane explains:

There are 3,253 pledged delegates, those doled out based on actual voting in primaries and caucuses. And you need 2,025 to win the nomination.
To date, about 52 percent of those 3,253 delegates have been pledged in the voting process -- with Clinton and Obama roughly splitting them at 832 and 821 delegates a piece, according to the AP.
That means there are now only about 1,600 delegates left up for grabs in the remaining states and territories voting.
So, do the math. If they both have 820 plus pledged delegates so far, they'll need to win roughly 1,200 -- 75 percent -- of the remaining 1,600 delegates to win the nomination through actual voting.
In other words: Ain't gonna happen...And then the super delegates decide this thing.

Does this mean the contest will be settled in some smoke-free backroom by machine hacks who don't give a fig about the Democratic vox populi?

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Not necessarily. Kane's arithmetic is spot-on. But with superdelegates comprising about 20 percent of the entire voting bloc, they essentially have to play a part in any close race. The question is how will they break. At the end of the primary season, one candidate will have more non-superdelegates than the other. If that contender also ends up with a majority of superdelegates, all will be well. The people's choice wins. It won't matter that he or she needed superdelegates to reach the magic number.

But if the second-place finisher picks up enough of a majority of the superdelegates to leap over the leader, then there will be quite a fuss. In that case, non-elected delegates will be deciding the race against the will of the majority (however slight it might be) of Democratic voters.

At this stage, there's no telling what all those superdelegates will do. Fewer than half have committed--and, as of a few days ago, the campaigns were saying that Clinton had about a 70-delegate edge among this band. But these superdelegates can change their minds up until the vote is called at the convention. As for the non-declared SDs, will they want to see the party elite anoint the second-place candidate and create a massive firestorm that will divide the party? And remember the Democratic establishment is not the same thing as the Clinton establishment. Not all of these influential Democrats are Clintonites. Not all believe that Clinton would be the best candidate for the party in November. She has the lead in superdelegates at the moment, but Obama can be competitive in this contest.

So place a hold on conspiracy theorizing or super-delegate hysteria for the time being. After all the primary votes are counted, the spotlight will shine brightly on these people. If they want to pull a backroom stunt, they will have to do so in public view.

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