Superdelegate paranoia, and why everyone should chill

Seemingly every observer of American politics is now paranoid that 795 superdelegates could decide the next Democratic nominee in some kind of deal in smoke-filled backrooms. I tend to avoid editorializing on the website, but the situation has become absurd: There are six months to go until the August convention, and everyone should chill about superdelegate influence. If anything, it is this paranoia which is allowing superdelegates to have an outsized influenced right now.

For one, there is no indication for now that this contest could be close enough that superdelegates make a difference. Obama is leading by 131 pledged delegates according to Campaign Diaries’s count, and that margin keeps growing. Considering that Democrats really seem to have divided loyalties in this election, it is highly unlikely that superdelegates break enough in one candidate’s way to make up that sort of margin.

Many states still have to hold their nominating contest – including places like Texas, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Is no one recognizing the absurdity of asking superdelegates to respect the will of voters (which is already leading many to change ships from Clinton to Obama) more than 3 months before the final states weigh in? Many supers are now committing to Obama before Ohio and Texas vote and even before the Wisconsin primary. If Clinton makes up the margin in those states and caps it in Puerto Rico, what will those superdelegates do, and will they switch back? If anything, superdelegates at this point look more likely to break the nomination fight Obama’s way than Clinton’s.

Why not wait three more weeks to make a decision if there are six more months to the convention?

The irony of the situation is apparently escaping superdelegates and most members of the media, who are relaying the fear of a hijacked convention. The New York Times account from this morning, while full of interesting information (Al Gore getting involved) is stunningly contradictory:

Democratic Party officials said that in the past week Mr. Gore and other leading Democrats had held private talks as worry mounted that the close race between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton could be decided by a group of 795 party insiders known as superdelegates.

The issues party leaders are grappling with, they said, include how to avoid the perception of a back-room deal.

Let me get this straight: Al Gore and party leaders are now engaged in backroom deals (“private talks”?!) about how to avoid backroom deals. What is happening now is that superdelegates have stepped in the process to an unprecedented extent because of this debate of “how they should stay out,” and they are getting involved months before they have to.

And in the process they are clearly favoring a momentum movement towards Barack Obama by keeping up the storyline of the Clinton campaign trying to steal the nomination from Obama. What is the Clinton campaign supposed to do? How can they give up on trying to court superdelegates when the Obama camp is talking to them as well? After all, both candidates cannot get a majority of delegates without the support of superdelegates at this point.

The best way to respect the pledged delegate wishes would be for the superdelegates to just shut up right now and stop talking about switching votes, about the need to “avoid” backroom deals or respecting the wishes of voters. Last time I checked, the wish of voters is still not known.

The confusion has now become caricatural. Nancy Pelosi joined the chorus yesterday by saying that superdelegates should respect the wishes of voters. But what does that mean: The wishes of their district? Of their state? Or of the overall pledged delegate leader? Does that mean Lewis has to change his vote but not John Kerry and Ted Kennedy?

And then there is John Lewis around who dozens of questions are swirling ever since it was first reported that he was switching his vote from Obama to Clinton. Is he supporting Clinton or Obama? Who is he casting his vote for? And does he see a difference between endorsement and superdelegates? We don't know, because Lewis is now avoiding talking to the press (!), making his position completely unclear.


  • Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are 100% correct about the super delegates. Time and the remainder of this campaign will take care of this matter. Thank you, also, for all of the effort and time you put into this blog. I check in with you 3 times a day to make sure I don't miss anything.

    By Anonymous stone621, At 16 February, 2008 14:07  

  • Agreed

    By Blogger Jason, At 16 February, 2008 14:28  

  • There is one scenario in which I can see the superdelegates playing a constructive role. That is if the Clintons start campaigning in a way that is harmful to the Democratic party.

    I'm thinking of the potential for introducing race explicitly into the campaign, or ratcheting up the pressure re Florida and Michigan. Perhaps I shouldn't be so cynical, but Penn's talk of "insignificant" states makes you wonder what the Clinton campaign is capable of. I fear that if Obama's lead continues to widen, things could get ugly.

    In that scenario (i.e., a scenario in which Obama already has a substantial lead), the superdelegates would be justified in stepping in to circumvent any ugliness.

    By Anonymous Stephen, At 16 February, 2008 15:25  

  • Doing what's best for the party means upholding the wishes of the Democratic party. Not necessarily the Obama party or the Clinton party. When the voting is over,then is the time for discussing that. It won't matter who has the delegate lead, it'll mean who has what votes and who cast them.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 16 February, 2008 15:47  

  • if we are still struggling to decide on a candidate in three months, we will already have lost the election to mccain. as gleeful as some have been about a brokered convention, it would be a disaster and the party could never unify in time for the election.

    i believe the superdelegates will do what they should, which is to swing to the leader in pledged delegates in march and april while quietly talking to the one trailing in delegates to get him or her to gracefully drop out at the appropriate time - probably shortly after march 4th.

    i like obama better, but i could live with either one winning (provided they win with pledged delegates of course). what none of us will be able to live with is a tie!

    By Blogger DFL Foot Soldier, At 16 February, 2008 15:49  

  • The majority of Democrats don't hold the view of dlf footsoldier. In fact the majority of Democrats don't like Obama better either. So it's hardly feasible to expect the superdelegates to step in and ask the candidate with the most support of the Democrats to step down. If they were to do such an unappealing thing as to interfere in this process prematurely, you can be certain it would be to cut off Obama. I think they should step back and give him a chance to prove he can carry a majority of Democrats. This rush to coronation by Obamacrats is just silly. McCain is going nowhere and isn't going to pick-up any more morons than the ones he has now. And the loss of a few Obama nuts doesn't make any difference. The Obama pushiness is dooming his chances. Let the people vote.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 16 February, 2008 16:34  

  • I agree with anonymous. The people should decide this one. If I were to put my money on someone right now, it would be that Obama will win a pluarality of the pledged delegate vote, and that it will come down to the supers. Hillary Clinton will just have to live with what happend at that point. If she is carried to the nomination through superdelegates, she will not win the General Election.

    Half of the democratic party and a hell of a lot of independents will stay at home, or vote for McCain.

    I doubt that Hillary wants to take this risk and humiliate herself any more than she already has.

    Im 90% sure she will get a cabinent post if she isn't a sore loser.

    The only way for Hillary to avoid all this is to WIN! This is Something she hasn't been doing lately. She has to win Ohio and Texas by BIG margins like Obama has been putting up. To beat him 51-49 will not get her the nomination. Plain and simple........

    By Anonymous MilwaukeeBuck, At 16 February, 2008 18:30  

  • Milwaukeebuck- You need to realize that 70% of us on either side are going to go with the winner. So really, no matter how it shapes up, we're happy. We each have preferences but let's get real here,the flag bearer aside it's the platform we're after. Most of us are much more interested in pushing forward our party's agenda than in getting our guy/gal in. I don't think either Obama or Hillary are going to be left out,although I'd point out that senate majority leader is probably a better spot than a simple cabinet position.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 16 February, 2008 19:18  

  • Being Senate Majority Leader is a post Hillary would fill perfectly.

    By Anonymous stone621, At 16 February, 2008 20:24  

  • There is one reason and one reason alone the super delegate were created. And that is to spare the party the unpleasantness of having the left highjack the process and nominate George McGovern again. I insist that Barack Obama is a candidate with a thin resume and a hollow adroit message of change with very little substance to it. Sooner or later somebody is going to puncture the balloon Hillary has not been able to do it because every time she attack Obama the media lapdogs and the Obamite cult followers start screaming racism. And she has to back up. Well, the republicans will not. In the general election carrying the AA vote by margins of 90 to 10 matters little, any democrat will carry that vote. After the Reps are done with him, he is a 38 to 42% candidate in the general. The superdelegates were created to stop that type of scenario from developing. Specially because if Obama is the harbinger of electoral doom, congress will be o the line too. You Obamites really have no clue of the type of electoral route that you are fostering. You have never been involved in politics and suddenly you folks saw religion. By the way, I cooked a pancake in the morning with the resemblance Obama on one side! I think is a miracle. Probably can sell it in Ebay to one of you Obamites!

    By Anonymous Robert_V, At 16 February, 2008 23:26  

  • robert: I'm curious how you reconcile your predictions of electoral defeat for Sen. Obama (it's spelled "rout," by the way) with the state-by-state polls that show him consistently beating Sen. McCain, while Sen. Clinton consistently loses to McCain.

    By Blogger ty, At 17 February, 2008 16:26  

  • Hey ty can you predict the weather on a specific date in Nov.? I didn't think so. Neither can the electability polls. Clinton can hold her own long term while Obama might crumble. Once the issues are on the table,McCain is toast. I bet that pancake fetches at least a thou. I better start burning some grilled cheese sandwiches. Obamamania is a big fish as we say in merchandising. Better move soon or they might snap out of it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 17 February, 2008 17:36  

  • If you Obama people succeed in electing McCain, Hillary will definitely take the senate majority spot. Amnesty for Mexicans in seconds! Bonuses for increasing their flood to Tancredo's neck of the woods. We can make sure Lou Dobbs can't speak english anywhere he goes.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 17 February, 2008 17:40  

  • Anonymous/Robert:

    Seriously, I'm not trying to be a demagogue here: I'm curious what the basis is for your assumption that Sen. Clinton's candidacy would bear the stresses of the general election better than Sen. Obama's would. Both candidates won their current senate seats (and defended it, in Sen. Clinton's case) against non-starter republican opponents. Sen. Obama lost his campaign for the House in 2000, though I gather it was against an incumbent in a relatively red district. Neither candidate has ever faced a very serious opponent and won. Therefore, I'm not sure what metrics we have to predict general election success, aside from past performance in the nomination fight and polls pitting the candidates against McCain.

    I guess I just have difficulty with the Clinton campaign's assertion that she is more electable because she has faced the Republican attack machine and "won." Her national negatives are near, or above, 50%. I don't know how that constitutes a victory. It seems to me her strong negatives, combined with her campaign's huge missteps in the nomination fight, make her a much poorer prospect than Sen. Obama.

    Help me out here, Robert. Tell me why Clinton's a good bet in November while Obama isn't.

    By Blogger ty, At 17 February, 2008 17:44  

  • @ty: I should fact check myself better before I hit post. Obama lost a primary fight in 2000 against Bobby Rush (D-Il), a four-term incumbent Congressman who still holds the seat. So I guess my assertion that neither candidate has faced a valid republican opponent and won is still true.


    By Blogger ty, At 17 February, 2008 17:50  

  • I'll help you out on this one. Hillary is a war weary battle axe that lets criticism slide off like raindrops. Obama jerkily reacts and mis-speaks. He doesn't show the confidence of a tried and hardened opponent. Frankly, he makes me nervous and I completely understand why his advisors want to shield him from "uncomfortable" settings. Hillary could easily smile and laugh while cutting out McCain's heart and serving it to him on a platter. That inspires confidence in people like me that aren't afraid of strong smart women and look forward to immasculinating the Haggard/Craig set. I think Obama has good intentions and his shortcomings are attributable to youth and inexperience. He'd make an excellent choice next time around. McCain's been around the block and he'd clearly take advantage of Obama. I think we should have some "mixed doubles" debates with the remaining top four just to get the juices flowing. Obama could certainly annihilate Huckabee and Hillary could teach Barack a few tactics against smiley McCain. I don't think it'd hurt either of them.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 17 February, 2008 18:42  

  • I'd pay to see that debate.

    We do seem to have different perceptions of the candidates, though. The only real misstep under pressure I've seen Obama make was the "likable enough" comment in NH, which really was boneheaded (and awfully offensive to Sen. Clinton and, by extension, her supporters). However, I don't agree with the battle-hardened view of the Clinton campaign. Although Sen. Clinton herself has managed to keep a pretty clear head throughout the race, the rest of her campaign hasn't. Pres. Clinton and Mark Penn seem to say something really dumb every few days. Taken as wholes, the Obama campaign has been more disciplined than the Clinton campaign so far, and I see no reason that would change in the general. If Clinton hasn't broken Obama, McCain sure won't.

    I do at least partially agree with you: Clinton would come off a lot better than McCain in the general. He's more electable than any of the other republican candidates, but I don't like his chances against either dem. I just think Obama will pair up against him a lot better. If nothing else, Clinton can't win the "experience" fight against McCain, but Obama can definitely win the "change" fight against him. Because most voters are ranking propensity for change as more important than experience, that seems like an asset.

    As to the non-existent debate controversy, you're begging the question by assuming the Obama campaign has avoided further debates to "shield him from 'uncomfortable' settings." The campaign has a great reason for avoiding debates: they give free advertising to Sen. Clinton, who needs all the free advertising she can get. I would note that Sen. Clinton did not ever debate her '06 senate opponent. Not once.

    It's spelled "emasculating," by the way.

    By Blogger ty, At 17 February, 2008 18:55  

  • The comment about only doing five hours of work on a church related project was a huge blunder. That would've been fatal to Hillary, but Obama's followers are much more forgiving. Hillary isn't really looking for free advertising, I think she's gotten plenty of that for the past sixteen years. It's no secret Barack is not good in debates. His strong suit is in non-confrontational settings where his prepared speeches make him appear perfect. I think he made up for that personal comment in the last debate with his chivalry. Thanks for the spelling correction, "emasculating" hasn't been used in my vocabulary lately. I still don't see him as being prepared for the task at hand.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 17 February, 2008 19:40  

  • Obama's response to Hillary's mention of Rezko at the debate was weak. However, I'm not sure what a better answer would have been. No one has shown any evidence Sen. Obama's relationship with Mr. Rezko ever involved anything illegal. Rezko is a skeezy dude, and Sen. Obama shouldn't have had an ongoing relationship with him. But it's tough to respond to accusations of impropriety if no one is able to tell you what the accusations actually are. "Rezko's a skeezy dude and I shouldn't have been hanging out with him" doesn't sound any better than the weak five hours story.

    The Rezko thing is a problem, but it's not a fatal one. McCain still has the Keating Five thing hanging over his head, and Sen. Clinton still has the Whitewater thing (among others, unfortunately). If vague allegations of wrongdoing stemming from an ill-defined relationship with an indicted slumlord are the worst Obama's opponents can come up with, he'll be fine.

    I've enjoyed this dialog, and I think we can agree that either candidate is likely to knock McCain around. I'm excited for November — let's get there in one piece.

    By Blogger ty, At 17 February, 2008 20:05  

  • I think the GOP masses want Hillary in the general election, while the party insiders would probably be happier to take on Obama. It's easy to see why in both cases.

    Hillary ensures a close race because of her high negatives, and she would definitely mobilize the GOP base--both things that would be great for the Republicans this year. However, she also has rock-solid positive numbers that are roughly equal to her negatives, which would keep her in the race no matter what, and Bill Clinton is a great fundraising asset.

    Obama is a gambler's candidate...massive potential upside, massive potential downside. He'll have had four years on the national scene come January 2009, meaning the press hasn't had as much time to dig up his skeletons yet. Also, Hillary has been right to hit him on the lack of substance--the man hasn't said a lot yet, with the exceptions of vague platitudes about hope and change. Then again, that's all he's needed to do, and it's possible that he's waiting until July to get specific. If the voters like him as much after he starts talking some substance as they do now, the race is over.

    By Anonymous Mr. Rational, At 17 February, 2008 20:26  

  • Ty-I've known Mr. Rezko for twenty years and I take exception to that reference of him as a slumlord. While my personal dealings have been minimal, his work to rehabilitate the inner city dwellings has been helpful to our community. I've never in my twenty years of knowing him, compromised my ethics in any way. I first met him while working on a church related project many years ago and he was helpful in getting Michelle and I a great deal on our lovely home. We're very happy there and our daughters are quite comfortable living in that house. End of comment. End of discussion. What skeeze? No more inuendo. Picture repainted. Rockwell style. That's what you'll see Hillary and McCain do on the tough ones. That's what Obama needs to learn.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 17 February, 2008 20:42  

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