Clinton ‘Interested in Acquiring Delegates, Period’
Dave Schuler, Alex Knapp and I had a long discussion about a possible fight for delegates at the Democratic convention on last night’s edition of OTB Radio. Unless Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton suddenly break away — which is exceedingly unlikely given the way their party allocates delegates — the superdelegates and the fate of the banned delegates in Florida and Michican may well prove decisive.
A few days ago, Alex predicted that sanity would prevail.
Hillary Clinton is no fool. She has to know that a Democratic convention where Obama has the majority of pledged delegates, but she wins the nomination by virtue of superdelegates is a convention that she does not want. It would alienate a substantial portion of her own party, and if John McCain is the Republican nominee, not only would a Clinton nomination rally the Republican base, but an ugly convention win might bring moderate Republicans and Independents into the GOP fold. She’s smart enough to avoid that scenario by ceding the contest to Obama if he has a majority of pledged delegates.
Hillary Clinton will take the Democratic nomination even if she does not win the popular vote, but persuades enough superdelegates to vote for her at the convention, her campaign advisers say.
The New York senator, who lost three primaries Tuesday night, now lags slightly behind her rival, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, in the delegate count. She is even further behind in “pledged” delegates, those assigned by virtue of primaries and caucuses.
But Clinton will not concede the race to Obama if he wins a greater number of pledged delegates by the end of the primary season, and will count on the 796 elected officials and party bigwigs to put her over the top, if necessary, said Clinton’s communications director, Howard Wolfson.
“I want to be clear about the fact that neither campaign is in a position to win this nomination without the support of the votes of the superdelegates,” Wolfson told reporters in a conference call. “We don’t make distinctions between delegates chosen by million of voters in a primary and those chosen between tens of thousands in caucuses,” Wolfson said. “And we don’t make distinctions when it comes to elected officials” who vote as superdelegates at the convention. “We are interested in acquiring delegates, period,” he added.
Clinton advisers rejected the notion that the candidate — and the party — would be badly wounded in the general election if the nominee were essentially selected by a group of party insiders.
“This is a nomination system that exists of caucuses, primaries, superdelegates and also the issue of voters in Florida and Michigan,” states whose delegates currently will not be seated at the convention because they broke party rules by moving up their primaries to January, said Mark Penn, senior strategist for the Clinton campaign. But “whoever the nominee is, the party will come together behind that nominee,” he said.
While Wolfson’s comments have something of the air of desperation, he’s really not saying anything novel. The superdelegates have been part of the Democratic Party nomination process since well before Bill Clinton made his first run for the presidency. Of course Hillary will take their votes. Superdelegates always count and as Dave has noted before, superdelegates always decide the Democratic nomination, at least technically.
Further, the Clinton campaign has a point, however self-serving:
“Could we possibly have a nominee who hasn’t won any of the significant states — outside of Illinois?” Chief Strategist Mark Penn said. “That raises some serious questions about Sen. Obama.”
Howard Wolfson, communications director, pointed out, “We do better the more voters vote. The largest turnout primaries, by in large, are the ones that have favored us. …The presidential election is not a caucus; it’s an election for the most people to get out and vote.”
Still, this is going to be touchy. The Clinton-Obama fight has gotten surprisingly personal and there are some unique issues in this race.
First, we’ve got the potential ugliness of the Florida and Michigan situation. Both states violated the rules to which everyone had agreed to in 2004 and were rightly punished for jumping the line. All candidates had agreed to be bound by the rules and to refuse to campaign in those states.
Clinton violated those rules and won two uncontested races in big states. Now, she wants the delegates.
It’s true that “everybody knew” those delegates would eventually be seated. But the expectation was that it would happen late in the convention and serve as an empty gesture of conciliation. Few expected that the nomination would still be in doubt this late, let alone by the time of the convention. For Florida and Michigan to actually be decisive would quite reasonably create a backlash from the Obama camp.
Second, we’ve got the so-called “politics of identity.” We’ve got the first person of color and the first woman with serious chances of getting a major party nomination. While he’s decidedly not running as The Great Black Hope, Obama has excited the Democratic Party’s exceedingly important black voting bloc in a way that has never happened before. If they feel that Hillary has stolen the nomination from their guy, they’re going to be mighty angry. Enough to vote for John McCain in November? Not likely. Enough to stay home? Quite possibly.
Of course, as Alex also noted, the superdelegates’ “pledges aren’t worth a Confederate nickel. Their votes can change at any time, and I suspect that that they will as soon as they determine which way the wind is blowing.” So they may well decide to switch their votes to Obama if they think that gives them the best chance in November.
But we’ve got the potential for something ugly. While I admire Alex’ faith in the basic decency of Hillary Clinton, I don’t share it. She’s ruthless enough to do whatever it takes to win.
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