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February 18, 2008
Overrule the Rank-and-File, Maybe That’s Not So Bad
The Democratic nominating process has moved from the
merely strange to the surreal. There is now talk about how
superdelegates will vote.
Superdelegates are the delegates-at-large, free to back
who they wish and independent of whom the Democratic voters selected in
caucuses and primaries.
Currently, more than half
of the party’s superdelegates have not publicly endorsed a candidate. Of
those who have endorsed, Hillary Clinton is leading in the numbers game,
which is what has people in a tizzy.
There is fear that Barack
Obama could go to the convention with a lead in delegates selected by
state primaries and caucuses, but not come away with the nomination
because Clinton has won over most of the party’s superdelegates. This is
part of the calculus that involves questions about what to do about the
Democratic delegations from Florida and Michigan, stripped of their
seats because the state parties moved up their contests in violation of
national party rules.
The Obama camp doesn’t
want those delegations seated, one would assume because of the results
of the primaries in either state. He didn’t campaign in either state and
had his name removed from Michigan’s ballots. Clinton, who handily won
both contests, naturally wants the delegates because those numbers would
even the current delegate count, which has Obama ahead.
naturally, could be rendered moot based on what happens March 4 in Texas
and Ohio. A decisive decision could settle the matter, and party
activists are hoping for that to happen rather than run the risks of a
contentious convention in Denver come August.
The ultimate fear is that
the product of a contentious Denver convention will be a party going
into the actual, real presidential campaign divided and bitter. And in a
year expected to be good for Democrats all the way around, that could
spell disaster at the ballot box.
These fears are probably
mostly the result of having paid close attention to what has been a
simmering, sometimes nasty nominating process. There is a tendency,
among people who pay very close attention, to forget that most people
aren’t. Most data suggests that the voters critical to actually winning,
the so-called swing voters, won’t actually make up their minds until
very late in the process . . . long after the party conventions are
forgotten. Unless there’s a repeat of Chicago ’68, no one’s going to
care how the candidates made their way to the ballot.
Should Texas and Ohio
fail to turn up a decisive winner, it could fall to the superdelegates
to pick the party’s nominee. Would it be such a bad thing if they picked
someone other than the guy with the most votes? Let’s step back in
A casual comparison turns
up a great many parallels between the campaign of Barack Obama and
George McGovern. Both candidates drew much of the same part of the
Democratic Party – liberal activists and educated Democrats. In 1972,
McGovern put together a miracle coalition and organization and captured
the Democratic nomination from the party establishment. His campaign
then imploded, and the result was ultimately the Watergate scandal.
McGovern’s loss is a
reminder that the party’s best interests aren’t necessarily served by
nominating based on popular vote. It’s worth noting that the Founding
Fathers created the Electoral College for precisely this reason – if the
nation’s electorate were to pick a certified madman as their president,
there would be someone there to make sure the guy didn’t take office.
No one thinks that Obama
is secretly insane, and it’s highly unlikely that he’d pick a running
mate with a history of mental illness. On the other hand, lingering
questions about his experience could prompt his party’s other leaders to
conclude that Clinton stands a better chance in the general election, no
matter what the rank-and-file say.
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