3.27.2008

Supermania: add-ons and party elders

Contrary to the popular belief that superdelegates are preparing some sort of coup, Hillary Clinton has had much more trouble among supers than among pledged delegates since February 5th. She has only received a few endorsements, while Obama has been increasing his total nearly daily. The ratio is superior to 10:1, and the situation is showing no sign of improving for the New York Senator as some of her own superdelegates (like Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington) are now saying that they will vote for Barack Obama at the convention floor if he keeps his national pledged delegates lead.

I have rarely listed superdelegate endorsements since this blog is not meant to be a full wrap-up on news. But now Hillary Clinton's chances are linked to convincing superdelegates to wait as much as to her showing in the upcoming primaries; any superdelegate that moves towards Obama makes Clinton's climb to the nomination that much steeper.

Yesterday, Obama got the support of Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski, meaning that there is only one superdelegate from the state which has not chosen sides yet, none other than Rep. Rahm Emmanuel. Given Emmanuel's close ties to both candidates, it is unlikely that he will pick sides unless he really has to.

Obama also lost a superdelegate today: Maryland Rep. Wynn (who lost his primary to Donna Edwards back in February) announced that he would resign in June. He had endorsed Obama but will not be able to vote in the convention if he leaves his job. Donna Edwards is also an Obama endorsee, but it is unclear whether she will become a House member by late August: Governor O'Malley will get to decide whether to hold a special election or not; even if there is one there is no guarantee that it will be completed and the winner sworn in by the Democratic convention.

Now, consider that there still are more than 70 superdelegates whose identity has not even been decided! They are the add-on delegates: Each state has one to five (most have 1-2) add-ons that are decided on in meetings of the state party central committee sometime from the end of February to the end of June, and these decisions will tell us as much as any contest about how long the race will drag on. If state parties select Obama supporters in an effort to push the race towards a close, Obama could reach a critically high number sooner than expected.

As of now only 5 states have chosen (Convention watch supplies us this very useful calendar of add-on selections). And today, it was Connecticut's turn to select its add-on and Obama gained a superdelegate, as the add-on is the co-chair of his Connecticut Leadership Council. The end result of this add-on system will likely be to boost whoever has won the state, and perhaps the state's with 2 add-ons will select one from every campaign (yet another example of the curse of contests allocating an even number of delegates!).

Meanwhile, the party elders, understood as those whose support could signify that the party's establishment is really committed to moving the race towards is resolution, are remaining silent: Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and, to some extent John Edwards. But Nancy Pelosi is still creating controversy: It is an open secret that the House Speaker prefers Obama. She let House members who are closest to her endorse the Illinois Senator and she has been publicly repeating a stance on superdelegate votes that is close to that of the Obama campaign.

This angered a group of wealthy Clinton-supporting Democratic donors who fired a threatening letter to Pelosi, arguing that superdelegates should make their own decision, which was the whole reason they were created back in the early 1980s:

During your appearance, you suggested super-delegates have an obligation to support the candidate who leads in the pledged delegate count as of June 3rd , whether that lead be by 500 delegates or 2. This is an untenable position that runs counter to the party’s intent in establishing super-delegates in 1984 as well as your own comments recorded in The Hill ten days earlier... Super-delegates, like all delegates, have an obligation to make an informed, individual decision about whom to support and who would be the party’s strongest nominee.

We have been strong supporters of the DCCC. We therefore urge you to clarify your position on super-delegates and reflect in your comments a more open view to the optional independent actions of each of the delegates at the National Convention in August. We appreciate your activities in support of the Democratic Party and your leadership role in the Party and hope you will be responsive to some of your major enthusiastic supporters.

With that continues the fight for the soul of superdelegates and for the rationale they should use in making decisions. And this is a battle that Barack Obama has been clearly winning since Super Tuesday, both in the minds of key superdelegates and in the battle of public opinion. Despite that, there still is the widespread perception that superdelegates are shadowy creatures conspiring to give the nomination back to über-establishment Clinton. If anything, the uncommitted superdelegates have been looking for ways to push for Obama since he started his victorious march on February 9th.

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