Monday, February 11, 2008

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a...Superdelegate!

The big discussion in Democratic circles is what will the superdelegates to the convention do. It seems apparent that neither candidate will have the nomination locked up before the convention, or even have a substantial lead. So that throws the ultimate decision to the superdelegates, a collection of Senators, Congressmen, Governors, and party officials. This has been decried as undemocratic. Donna Brazile has threatened to quit her party position if they act badly – like anyone would give a shit. Others, including Obama himself, have suggested that SDs follow their district/state’s voting preference – which enabled Hillary to get off her best response of the campaign, saying how she would welcome Ted Kennedy and John Kerry’s votes at the convention. Of course, that would cause an amusing situation in the Clinton camp as well, with Charles Rangel, a Clinton surrogate, whose district (not to mention his wife) supported Obama.
All of this ignores why they exist in the first place. Back in 1980, people realized that in a contested race, it was possible for a lot of office-holders, big ones even, to not even be delegates to the convention, since they might have been on the losing side of a primary contest. More and more people felt that the party was becoming leaderless, with experienced politicians left out of deliberations, and with the real risk of nominating a candidate who might not be the one that local candidates would want at the top of the ticket. If there is a Senate race in North Carolina or Virginia, who is at the top of the ticket could determine the winner of that seat. Certainly the coat tails are very important when you get to House races. This system was designed to give the experienced pols a shot at fixing a mistake, especially with most delegates selected months in advance of the convention.
Rampant democracy and the 24-hour news cycle has made it seem outdated. This is the first time they will clearly have the say and they are frightened by it. In a race this close, this divisive of interest and demographic groups within the party, it’s not going to be easy. Obama running the table would solve their problem, but that doesn’t figure to happen. How can they make a decision?
After this week, after Obama’s 8 wins (and a Grammy), he will be referred to as the frontrunner. Next week in Hawaii and Wisconsin will probably reinforce that – although Hillary’s new team may well decide to try and slow his momentum in WI, risking money and time in what might be a lost cause. Still, she figures to come back in March, focusing on Texas (a likely significant win because of the large Latino vote) and Ohio, which will be the first of two showdown states, with Pennsylvania following seven weeks later. Here is the Clinton scenario: Obama piles up delegates in caucuses and smaller, mostly African-American dominated states, then she takes Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, giving her a virtual sweep of every major state except for his home state. With the delegate totals close, the SDs have no choice but to turn to the person who wins the major primaries. It might work, since Texas is naturally hers, and she has a big polling lead in Ohio, which looks a lot like all the other states where Obama starts from way behind and closes fast at the end, ultimately falling short. That means the seven-week campaign in PA could be decisive. Where the SDs really have trouble is if Obama ends up with more delegates, more total votes, and loses all the big states decisively. I think if he stays close in OH and PA, they’ll go with him, but the entrails of birds would be just as likely to give us the likely outcome of this race as any reasoned analysis.

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