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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Fun With Superdelegates

As the Democratic presidential contest gets ever-more-intense, and delegate counts gradually become as important as poll numbers, a lot of attention is now being paid to “superdelegates,” the 796 DNC members and elected officials who get an automatic ex officio ticket to Denver. They matter in part because they collectively represent nearly 20% of the entire convention; and in part because they will go to Denver officially unpledged–i.e., they cannot legally be bound by primary or caucus results, and they can in fact change their endorsements at will.
The best place to track superdelegates and their preferences is a site called 2008 Democratic Convention Watch, which not only keeps up with the numbers but also posts varying counts by other sources. By their own count, 282 superdelegates have endorsed, with Clinton holding 175, Obama 73, Edwards 27, and Kucinich 2 (these numbers include superdelegates from MI and FL, which may be excluded from the convention). Obama has been narrowing the gap in recent days, unsurprisingly. That leaves another 514 superdelegates up for grabs, and again, they can shift allegiances at will.
A quick look at the endorsement lists shows some unsurprising patterns: the three main candidates pick up big chunks of superdelegates from their home states, while HRC is benefitting disproportionately from DNC member support. But beyond that, the lists are pretty polyglot, and certainly don’t fit any of the left-center ideological boxes that some observers have tried to build for the candidates; Blue Dogs and Progressive Caucus members are all over the lot.
Superdelegates are unlikely to decide the nomination; plenty of the currently unaligned folks will feel some pressure to follow their state’s primary/caucus results, and a concerted superdelegate effort to counteract clear majority support for a candidate from elected delegates would almost certainly backfire. But they do represent a modest firewall against the nightmare contingency of a late development that makes a putative nominee a general election disaster. And in the very unlikely case of a highly competitive contest that’s not resolved by the primaries, then they could become a big prize indeed, even now in an era where convention conference rooms will be officially smoke-free.

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