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.