Search This Blog


LA Democrat superdelegates will go with most electable

There’s much confusion about the role Louisiana’s Democrat Party Leaders and Elected Officials (PLEO) delegates (“superdelegates”) will play in the party’s nomination of either Sens. Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton for the presidency. Having taught how the Democrats’ system works for almost two decades, let me be of assistance.

Initially, it must be understood that the complicated system of the Democrats – no unit rule decisions by state or territory or Democrats Overseas (that is, no winner-take-all), the presence of the PLEOs, and the diversity mandates (for example, half of delegates must be female) – came as a result of the disastrous 1972 nomination of former Sen. George McGovern. Simply, the existing system permitted popular passions of the party’s most liberal members to be translated into an unelectable candidate. Thus, the reform efforts beginning with the party’s 1974 meeting and tweaked several times since was to give those with a substantial stake in party affairs – officers and elected Democrats – significant weight in the nomination process while balancing that with grassroots representation of all meaningful parts of the party. It was believed the superdelegates would use good political sense in their choices to vote for the candidate most capable of winning in the fall.

In short order, they almost became critical deciders of nominations. Both in 1980 and 1984 the eventual nominee barely squeaked out enough “pledged” delegates to have an absolute majority (note: technically, no delegate is officially “pledged” among Democrats – delegates apportioned as a result of primaries essentially are chosen by the candidate’s campaigns themselves, and of course pledged caucus delegates already have promised, and are expected to be loyal to that candidate, but any delegate can vote for any nominee although defection is very rare). Both Obama and Clinton will fall far short in 2008, making the superdelegates, who represent almost a fifth of the total nomination votes, in fact the critical deciders.

So, in analyzing what superdelegates intend to do as a matter of course it is mistaken and facile to assume generally they’ll follow some standard such as how a state’s vote turned out. Some who have been early backers of a candidate out of loyalty will continue that support regardless of anything else, and those who rate the candidate’s chances and equal for November victory might use a popular vote standard. (Note also that not all superdelegates are yet picked – each state gets anywhere from one to several picked by the party’s leadership, usually at the state chairman’s discretion; Louisiana’s singleton will be chosen May 3).

But the large majority of these officials will use a very parsimonious decision rule in making their choice (hopefully from the national party’s perspective by a self-imposed Jul. 1 date): who has the best chance of beating presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain? That’s regardless of any other consideration, especially since both candidates can claim a mandate from the party: likely after all nomination contests cease in early June, Obama will have a non-PLEO delegate lead in the neighborhood of a hundred, but Clinton actually will have received more popular votes and will have outperformed Obama in the predicted closely contested “swing” states.

While it’s tempting to try to reduce the complexity of the situation to buzz phrases, such as believing Obama has the nomination wrapped up because blacks would abandon the party in the fall, it also misunderstands the situation. Using this as an example, if superdelegates swing the nomination to Clinton, it will be because many of them believe Clinton has a better chance of winning even if some blacks (actually, it won’t be many) might sit out the presidential election because Obama doesn’t get the party’s nod.

It’s still anybody’s contest, which is why so many Louisiana superdelegates have yet to give public endorsements. They’ve got their fingers in the air, seeing which way the wind blows, and they’ll decide when they feel certain enough one candidate has a better shot than the other.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article. Very informative. Thanks.