Kryptoniting Superdelegates

I have to disagree with my colleague Dave Schuler on the importance of superdelegates in this election. I don’t think that they’ll be much of a factor in either race.

Let’s look at the Democrats first. It’s important to remember that although right now it appears that Clinton has more superdelegates than Obama, those 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. And frankly, I think that last night showed that the wind is blowing in Obama’s direction. Yes, Clinton won California and New York, but her victory in New York was pretty much a foregone conclusion. As for California, Obama still picked up a substantial number of delegates and let’s not forget that most reports indicate that something on the order of 25-35% of California’s voters had voted by mail, meaning that the polling gains Obama had made in the past week didn’t affect those votes. And at the end of the night, Obama has taken the lead among the pledged delegates–the one’s he can count on. And the upcoming elections in February are in states that are mostly Obama-favorable.

So let’s get one thing straight–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 Democrats 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.

Now, on the GOP side, superdelegates might come into play, but only if Romney can somehow salvage the devastation of Super Tuesday and win some races in the remaining month. If he can become the “anti-McCain” candidate and keep McCain from winning a majority of pledged delegates outright, my suspicion is that the party establishment would make the GOP superdelegates an “offer they can’t refuse” to vote for Romney.

That said, given the unlikelihood of Huckabee going anywhere or a Romney resurgence, I doubt that superdelegates are going to get much play on the GOP side, either.

Of course, given my usual powers of prediction, you can probably disregard all of the above in a few months when the Democrats are forced into a brokered convention where Al Gore emerges as the surprise nominee with Obama as his running mate, facing off against a Huckabee-Paul ticket.

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Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. Beldar says:

    She’s smart enough to avoid that scenario by ceding the contest to Obama if he has a majority of pledged delegates.

    Surely you jest. Have you forgotten that you’re talking about Hillary Clinton, wife of the President Who Refused to Resign, enabler of the President Who Blamed Everyone Else For His Soiling of the Presidency, political twin of the originator of the Perpetual Campaign (whose sole guiding principle is Win at All Costs)?

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    Beldar,

    Don’t forget that she is also the wife of the President who was so desperate to have a “legacy” as President that he sucked up to historians. Losing the biggest gimmee election the Democrats have ever had is not the “legacy” I think they want.

  3. Ellen says:

    She’s smart enough to avoid that scenario by ceding the contest to Obama if he has a majority of pledged delegates.

    The nomination will have to be wrenched from the their death-grip on power for this to happen. The Clintons won’t blink to tear the Democratic party in two if there is even a chance they can steal the nomination.

  4. Michael says:

    The Clintons won’t blink to tear the Democratic party in two if there is even a chance they can steal the nomination.

    The Clinton’s don’t have much of a say, the super-delegates can vote for whomever they want at the convention. Furthermore the decision to sit Michigan and Florida delegates will not be up to Clinton to decide.

  5. Michael says:

    Furthermore the decision to sit Michigan and Florida delegates will not be up to Clinton to decide.

    Huh, I should have spent the 2 minutes researching this _before_ I posted. It turns out the decision of which delegates to seat is determined by a credential committee, the membership of which is determined by some formula involving a candidate’s performance in state primaries and caucuses.

    So it may be that Clinton will have some say, though presumably if Obama does better in pledged delegates, he’ll have more sway in the credential committee, so if it turns out to be something that can change the outcome, Obama may be in a better position to steer the outcome than Clinton.

  6. Tlaloc says:

    Clinton Derrangment Syndrome is in full bloom I see.

    What exactly have the Clinton’s done that justifies this hyperbole? When Bush won (sort of) in 2000 did they call on army units to prevent his swearing in? Did they barricade the whitehouse and shoot at the “interloper”? Oh, I know- they went to Montana and rallied the militia movement to rise up in defiance of the government, right?

    Huh. Nope.

    After a fairly (sort of) successful presidency Bill retired to the speech giving circuit like virtually all ex-presidents. Hillary stood for election to the senate, winning twice, in NY.

    My god, the horror! Do these people know no bounds? The unmitigated gall, the unbelievable avarice for power that would cause a well connected successful, and yes even popular, woman to run for president is stunning.

    Here’s the problem with the clinton haters- what do they have left to say? I mean what could they accuse Hillary of that would top the various sex and murder rumors of the 90s? I kind of feel sorry for them, in a way. Their hatred and lack of proportion has exceeed the capabilities of the english language to express.

  7. yetanotherjohn says:

    If Obama goes on to win the nomination and loses the general election, his political career could well be over. They will say he lost because of (fill in the blanks, but being liberal is not one of the choices). Whatever the conclusion, he wouldn’t get another presidential nomination and he might face serious challenge to hold his Illinois seat (probably from within the democratic party more than from the GOP). In this same scenario, I’m not sure how Clinton would do in 2012. In theory she would be a strong candidate (“I told you to nominate me, you didn’t and you lost”), but I think whatever happens at this point the Clinton magic is tarnished. I don’t think she could lose this nomination and put the machine back together to win the whole enchilada in 2012.

    If Clinton goes on to win the nomination and loses the general election, she will likely be able to remain the NY senator, but her role will be greatly diminished. Obama would likely be well placed to run in 2012. Likewise, if Obama pulled a VP deal out now ‘for the sake of party unity’ (Clinton tops the ticket), then he would be well placed to run in 2012 if she loses or 2016 if she wins.

    The real question is whichever one gets the nod, how do they get the other’s constituency’s (Old vs young, poor vs rich, black vs Hispanic, etc.). Especially when you consider that either is probably going to have to run to the middle pretty hard since McCain already has a seat there (though I note that the DNC is trying to portray McCain as a hard right conservative at the time that hard right conservatives are trying to portray him as a liberal which probably justifies calling him a moderate). They won’t be able to pander much red meat for their base if they want to win the general election.

    As to super delegates, I agree that they will likely have a strong lemming instinct to get in front of the parade. But there is still a lot of back room deal mongering that will go on. I think Clinton will have the upper hand here. She not only has more experience in this and a longer history with most of them, Clinton had shown he can help with making money after office. I still give Clinton the edge, though it is far from a lock.

  8. Beldar says:

    If the Clintons cared more about legacy than power, Bill Clinton wouldn’t have left the Oval Office with a wave of sleazy pardons. I don’t disagree that he would love to have a better legacy. But not at the expense of power — ever.