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February 18, 2008

If Superdelegates 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.


Both questions, 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 history.


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.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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