may the best votes win!

Regardless of who "wins" the Democratic primary elections next week, neither candidate will win enough delegates to win the nomination. All that will happen is that both will win more delegates in proportion to the vote. If the races are close, this means there will be no major net change, and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's delegate stalemate will remain with neither a clear winner.

Unfortunately, the endless debates, countless vote counts, and exciting predictions make the process seem a lot more democratic than it really is.

However, Americans are now waking up to the ugly secret that in the Democratic Party, some votes (those of the superdelegates) count more than other votes. A lot more:

Clinton, former president Bill Clinton (a superdelegate himself) and their allies have been working aggressively for months to court the superdelegates, drawing on old loyalties to open a huge advantage for the senator from New York in total delegates amassed.

"One person, one vote? Forget about it. Some votes are worth more than others. You have to know the rules," said Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Al Gore in the 2000 presidential race and a D.C. superdelegate.

Of the nearly 300 superdelegates who have committed to a candidate, out of a total of 796, Clinton leads Obama roughly by a 2-to-1 ratio, according to numerous counts. The lead is so substantial, her campaign asserts, that even if Obama pulls ahead in pledged delegates after Feb. 5, Clinton will probably retain a modest edge in the overall delegate tally.

But there is a catch. While delegates chosen in a primary or caucus are technically committed to a candidate, superdelegates can change their allegiance at any time.

The threat of a wholesale shift hangs over both candidates....

More here from Sean Gonsalves of the Cape Cod Times:
What if Clinton and Obama are neck-and-neck on the delegate count going into the convention and the superdelegates aren't just a deciding factor but the deciding factor? What if the Clinton super delegate "firewall" trend continues and these super delegates end up crowning Hillary king, even though Obama gets more votes?

True, all the candidates knew the "rules" going in. So, Hillary's delegate advantage can be considered "fair play." But if this undemocratic "rule" should happen to beat a more popular Obama, there's going to be lots of folks, inside and outside the party, rightly crying foul.

That was written on February 11, and right now, I'd say the "what if" is looking more and more like a political certainty.

What has become increasingly obvious (even to political outsiders) is that because the votes in the remaining primaries will not be enough to put either candidate over the magic number, this race will be decided by a few hundred people -- known collectively as "the superdelegates."

I'd say the smoke-filled rooms are back! But I can't say that, because today's Democratic Party activists are about as tolerant of smoking as Iranian mullahs are of gay disco dancing. Maybe no-smoking-sign-filled rooms.

This is shaping up to be an all-out war, waged delegate by delegate.

They could have saved them the trouble by not bothering with the primaries, and just let the party insiders decide who gets it. I can't think of a better way to create a permanent rupture than allowing a class of young, starry-eyed idealists not only to vote for the candidate of their dreams (a man they consider the literal embodiment of "hope") , but then actually see him win democratically, and in a crowning blow, finally see hope destroyed in the most undemocratic manner imaginable.

To fuel the animosity this shattering of hope will cause, there will doubtless be lots of individual horror stories about idealistic delegates who found themselvse forced to switch sides.

The more I read about superdelegates, the more I shudder at the thought of being one.

Exactly who are these people? Some 800 strong, they are by no means experienced players of political hardball, yet Hillary Clinton has hired the hardest of the hardballers (Harold Ickes) to do precisely that. The hardball game has barely started, but already, there are numerous stories of what is euphemistically being called "aggressive lobbying."

As the LA Times relates, many of the superdelegates were not prepared for what seems to be their fate:

Some superdelegates are wondering themselves about the power they may exert.

"I don't think any of us got into this thinking we would somehow be part of a small group of people who get to select the next president of the United States -- or at least the party's nominee," Millin said. "Most reasonable people assumed the race would be over by Super Tuesday, if not in New Hampshire."

Millin, BTW, is described as an ophthalmologist who "fits people for glasses and performs cataract operations." A couple of other examples:
Debbie Marquez owns a restaurant whose specialty is chicken enchiladas in creamy jalapeno sauce. Christopher Stampolis is looking for a job now that the industrial recycling company where he worked for the last decade closed.
Hey, spreading a little cash around might work wonders. And between now and August, there should be plenty of cash to spread.

All over the country, there are reports of cash spreading and aggressive lobbying. These things just seem to go hand in hand.

Forgive my cynicism, but I'm wondering out loud whether any of these 800 people might have skeletons in their, um, closets.

You don't think Ickes and his ilk might hire dirt diggers background checkers, do you?

That would be very undemocratic, but Im not the first to wonder out loud, as did this anonymous commenter at Ben Smith's blog:

Does anyone remember Harold Ickes? He is baaaaaaaaaaack! He is the absolute and definitive dirtmeister. He was the person floating that rumor that Lewinski was a poor, disturbed, unsettled stalker. Just another stupid woman who idolized BC. Until that poor, disturbed, stupid, unsettled stalker turned up with that, gag!, blue dress.

Unfortunately, human nature is such that we run back to what is familiar and what has worked. She can not do that because this is exactly what the people want to get away from. You can not argue change when you are going back to the politics of personal destruction.

Does anyone doubt that Ickes is out there digging up dirt and scum on every single super delegate? For leverage?

One pundit nailed the description perfectly. Incendiary tactics. It is what the Clintons excel at. And you can bet, with Ickes on board, that is what he is doing.

While there are already reports of dirt digging ("Hillary Clinton campaign using detectives to investigate the private lives of the Super Delegates"), Allah dismisses the idea as impractical:
How would this work, though? She's not going to blackmail 600-700 people, let alone powerful party insiders, and if she gets wiped out on March 4 in Texas and Ohio that's about how many of them are going to break Obama's way. Unless she's counting on a down-to-the-wire race where a handful can be flipped, this is crap. Rose-scented crap, but crap.
Thomas Elias looks at these relatively obscure people, and asks some questions:
There's no known moral dirt on any of these people. But none was elected by anyone as a convention delegate. Many got their seats on the DNC as rewards for longtime party activism and fund-raising, with no one seriously expecting they would have anything much to do with choosing a president.

But things can work out strangely. After more than 50 years of not mattering much, the Democratic National Convention just might actually decide something other than an esoteric platform plan that 99 percent of Americans will quickly forget.

And these few Californians could be the ones who swing it one way or the other. The question: Do they deserve that role? Do you want them deciding the fate of the nation and possibly yourself?

While it doesn't much matter what I want, I think it might be helpful to take a little pressure off these people by coming up with some sort of rule that their votes should reflect the majority. But it may be too late for that.

With the Democrats' "dirty delegate secret" now out of the bag, it should be interesting to watch what happens.

What happens if cash and "aggressive lobbying" don't work? At what point does "aggressive lobbying" cross a line and become something akin to extortion?

I think the guys who learned the hardball game decades ago would do well to remember that overpressured, aggressively lobbied, and disgruntled superdelegates can do things like start whistle-blowing blogs (something impossible in the old days).

I don't know what's going to happen, but I do know this. When I predicted that Hillary would not go gently into the good night, I think I might have been understating the case.

UPDATE: My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for linking this post, especially for the quote, and a warm welcome to all.

Comments always appreciated -- agree or disagree.

posted by Eric on 02.27.08 at 09:18 AM


I read and understand your opinion regarding the superdelegate issue in the Democrat nomination process.
I would like to understand why the process of selecting the Republican nominee, wherein John McCain gained momentum and consequently the advantage by receiving large numbers of votes from persons who likely have no interest in the Republican Party at all, is essentially different. Why do we call that the contest for the Republican nomination?

I would venture to say if McCain were where he is based solely on 'republican' voter preferences he would not be getting all this grief from those who supposedly should be supporting him.

Bob Thompson   ·  February 27, 2008 10:24 AM

I'm not even sure "digging" has to be done. As major fundraisers, there is a good chance that they are already ankle deep (if not neck deep) in the democratic fundraising quagmire. You don't need to find the dirt on them when they are the dirt.

And it isn't the logistical nightmare it seems. You don't need to blackmail them all, you just need to blackmail the ones who weren't already behind you, and you only need to blackmail enough of them. Hillary is likely to already have half if not more of them. If she is only 20 or 30 delegates away, it is certainly not even impractical to have leverage on 20-30 out of 400.

Phelps   ·  February 27, 2008 11:36 AM

This situation resembles Florida in 2000, in that sometimes there is a tie -- or something statistically very close to a tie -- and at that time, a single vote can count. If and when the "tie" resolves itself, then no one vote will seem all that important, but if the "tie" continues, then the very last of the found or swayed votes will make the decision.

Usually in an election, most of the votes are on the same day, so we only see this temporal factor in various recounts and "found" boxes of votes in Florida, or traditionally perhaps most often in Chicago. But in a primary the votes are sequential, and the Superdelegates announce, or change, their allegiance at any time.

Those who voted earlier, or especially first, may complain that their decision is somehow underweighted or uncounted. But this makes no more sense than for New Hampshire and Iowa to complain that Texas will be choosing the nominee, instead of them. In most years, going first gives you more influence, not less, and in most years, the regular delegates have all the power, and the Superdelegates have no mathematical possibility of swaying the election.

But when Superdelegates were created, the notion of a close vote was not impossible for their creators to imagine; they were in fact conscious of the need to create Superdelegates precisely to give party elders power in years with a close vote.

There may be a surprise that this year, Hillary couldn't win outright in the primaries and caucuses, but there is no surprise that Superdelegates are the ones to actually break such a close vote -- that is the reason they exist. And there is also no surprise that the Superdelegates would go in greater numbers to the more establishment candidate -- that was also expected when the Superdelegate role was created. In particular, Superdelegates were seen as the sort of power which in hindsight would have chosen someone like Muskie instead of McGovern, avoiding Nixon's 49-state blowout win in 1972.

DWPittelli   ·  February 27, 2008 12:43 PM

Don't forget all those FBI files available to be used against the elected superdelegates. Presumably not so much use against the party activists. But as long as we're talking blackmail....

David   ·  February 27, 2008 12:53 PM

Man, I'd give a nice cold bottle of pop to see a break-down of the Dem Superdelegates by race, gender, and how they eventually vote.

I bet a lot of other people would, to.

Letalis Maximus, Esq.   ·  February 27, 2008 12:55 PM


"...would, too."

Letalis Maximus, Esq.   ·  February 27, 2008 12:56 PM

Let the blogshine in. Great post!

Sissy Willis   ·  February 27, 2008 1:33 PM

Actually, after reading Pittelli's remarks, I think the superdelegate approach is ok in that it gives the established party participants the ability to have a little more influence (how much is important, enough to break a virtual tie but not enough to overturn a clearly dominant candidate)) in the process. This is superior to having non-party members unduly influence outcomes as happened to the Republicans in the early primaries.

Bob Thompson   ·  February 27, 2008 1:50 PM

Tactical error: Gays are never going to get rights if you keep associating them with disco dancing (shudder).

Assistant Village Idiot   ·  February 27, 2008 1:52 PM

At what point does "aggressive lobbying" cross a line and become something akin to extortion?

Months ago, I'm sure.

TallDave   ·  February 27, 2008 2:41 PM

You wrote: "I can't think of a better way to create a permanent rupture than allowing a class of young, starry-eyed idealists not only to vote for the candidate of their dreams (a man they consider the literal embodiment of "hope"), but then actually see him win democratically, and in a crowning blow, finally see hope destroyed in the most undemocratic manner imaginable."

Um ... isn't that pretty much exactly what happened to Al Gore?

He won the popular vote. But, and in a crowning blow, saw his hope destroyed in the most undemocratic manner imaginable by having the Electoral College (superdelegates) and the Supreme Court (unelected supremedelegates) decide the election instead for our current president, George W. Bush.

I think the analogy is pretty striking, don't you. After all, everyone knew the rules could lead to the superdelegates at the Electoral College deciding the vote by the people really wasn't all that important.

Did this cause a "rupture?" On the contrary, I think it instead energized people who had never voted before to do so.

When, not if, Hillary and the supers get through stealing this nomination from the only black man ever in a position to be President - an "superdelegate lynching" if you will - it will cause minorities not to "rupture" but rather to understand for the first time that the party they belong to is led by racists who enslave them with government programs instead of whips.

justanobserver   ·  February 27, 2008 3:25 PM

To justanobserver:

Eric is a little overdramatic and I doubt Obama will lose if he dominates the popular vote, only if it is close. Al Gore is not the first candidate to lose an election through the electoral vote process in our democratic republic that was never set up so that the Presidency would necessarily be won by popular majority. If we were to do it that way I think the Eurocoasts liberals would leave the rest of us in their dust!

Bob Thompson   ·  February 27, 2008 4:28 PM

I just love the idea (barely concealed) from justanobserver that, even though there are rules for deciding an election that these somehow don't count if they result in the 'wrong outcome' -- i.e. your guy doesn't win.

There is *NO* known perfectly democratic method of picking rulers that actually works in practice at a level of much more than perhaps 2500 voters.

What we have in presidential elections (and the Democrats have in their convention) is an effort to slow, if not prevent, a win based more on a sudden popularity than anything else.

I know that irritates those who prefer feelings to thought, but our Founders were way more rational than 'feeling'.

JorgXMcKie   ·  February 27, 2008 5:47 PM

Comparing super delegates to the elctoral system is misleading. The college is there to make sure California/Texas/New York don't pick the president every time. Power still belongs to the states. With superdelegates the power belongs to specific people. It's a way to help keep the people in power, in power, plain and simple.

Anonymous   ·  February 27, 2008 6:42 PM

Behold the evil of political parties. I look to the day they both disappear.

bour3   ·  February 27, 2008 6:49 PM

Eric notes, almost in passing, a most salient point: The Clintons might find themselves needing to put the blocks to some real Dem insiders - the sort of insiders who might be able to retaliate with heretofore unreleased knowledge of one of the most corrupt administrations in modern history: the (first) Clinton adminstration.

Bill Quick   ·  February 27, 2008 10:31 PM

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