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Friday, February 15, 2008

Another Superdelegate Speaks His Mind

posted by on February 15 at 17:00 PM

We heard from Washington Rep. Brian Baird on the Slog this morning.

He seems to think superdelegates should consider the will of their constituents when deciding whom to endorse in the presidential race. Now comes an email from the Clinton campaign calling my attention to the “must read” words of House Majority Leader Jim Clyburn in an AP story headlined: “Superdelegates should keep quiet on candidate support

While Clyburn said he’d prefer superdelegates not announce their support until much later in the nominating process, he said he also doesn’t agree with superdelegates shifting support from one candidate to another based on how their constituents vote in a primary or caucus.

Clyburn said superdelegates are not in place simply to mirror the popular vote. “I don’t think people are really thinking through what they’re saying,” he said.

It takes 2,025 to clinch the nomination - a number Clyburn said Friday he didn’t think either candidate will be able to reach before the convention. The August convention in Denver is where the superdelegates will have their say, he said.

“Nobody is going to have 2,000 votes when this is over,” Clyburn said. “The superdelegates are there to provide the rest of those votes. That’s why we were supposed to be unpledged.”

Here’s the full story.

UPDATE: However, the “most super delegate of all,” Nancy Pelosi, has now broken her silence and declared that superdelegates should not reverse the will of the people:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who may be the most super delegate of all as chair of the Democratic national convention in Denver — gave an interview with Bloomberg TV’s Al Hunt in which she laid down the law for super delegates:

Don’t veto the people’s choice.

“I think there is a concern when the public speaks and there is a counter-decision made to that,” she said, adding quickly, “I don’t think that will happen.”

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Posted by ecce homo | February 15, 2008 5:06 PM

If the superdelegates were to mirror their constituents' choices, wouldn't that make their role pointless?

From the way the system is set up, presumably they are to act as truly independent delegates and not merely as echo chambers.

If that strikes some democrats as unfair, then they should have voiced their concerns before the primary season began. More likely, they are complaining now not out of a delicate sense of fairplay but instead because the independence of the superdelegates threatens their favored candidate.

Posted by behelden | February 15, 2008 5:10 PM

I strongly recommend this article ( linked by Ezra Klein ( which explains how superdelegates came to be.

Long story short: they're not there to overrule the will of the people, they never have, and they are unlikely to do so now. They are there to prevent messy convention floor fights by providing a decisive majority for the "presumptive nominee" once he or she has wrapped up most of the states.

The superdelegates are likely to fall in line behind Obama if he keeps winning states. I think this is what Clyburn is alluding to. So we don't need to be so scared about superdelegates (who happen to be elected officials, mostly, people, and are thus accountable to voters) subverting the will of the people.

Posted by lorax | February 15, 2008 5:11 PM

Does that also mean that the "people" of Florida and Michigan will get to have their will heard?

Tricky, specially if Clinton wins TX, Ohio and PA. and goes all the way to Puerto Rico which she will probably win. What then? Thats going to put them at a virtual tie with senator Obama only slightly ahead.

Personally, I think she is done, but who knows.

Posted by SeMe | February 15, 2008 5:15 PM

Oh wait! I have it! Let's call Pelosi a Queen Bee! Snap! We'll say she is one of those second wave feminists who fight their way to the top of the patriarchy by exploiting their femininity, and then abuse their power to keep other women down, so they don't have any competition.

And to think Hillary could be paying me a fraction of what she gives to Marc Penn.

Posted by elenchos | February 15, 2008 5:15 PM

I've never understood why superdelegates "pledged" ahead of time.

I would have endorsed a candidate and then said that I would pledge for a candidate when the time came; namely, at the time of the party convention. Duh!!

Posted by Hey wait | February 15, 2008 5:15 PM

Hey wait, the word "pledged" is confusing here. Normal delegates are pledged to vote for the candidate they were elected to represent, hence the word "pledged" to mean "committed."

Superdelegates, however, are not and cannot be stuck with a choice before they actually cast their vote at the convention, so the use of the word "pledged" is meaningless. They could say "endorsed" or "committed" or "sworn to" or whatever, and it would still be meaningless.

And SeMe, the problem is that even if the DNC were to un-punish Florida and Michigan, the will of the people is unknown. It would be silly to pretend that the results there were not influenced by the mostly-lack of campaigning and people being told that their vote would not count.

Posted by also | February 15, 2008 5:33 PM

@7 (also)

Superdelegates, however, are not and cannot be stuck with a choice before they actually cast their vote at the convention, so the use of the word "pledged" is meaningless. They could say "endorsed" or "committed" or "sworn to" or whatever, and it would still be meaningless.

That's exactly the point! You can say something that's meaningless, which allows you to change your mind later... I'd expect nothing less from politicos! It's just that if the hoi polloi has it so confused, then use their confused vocabulary: anything-but-pledged/pledged.

(Disclaimer: Someday I hope I have enough money to throw around that I can be involved in politics... Honestly, no hard feelings about politicians here. w00t!)

Posted by Hey wait | February 15, 2008 5:40 PM

You know what? This is crap, all of it. Clyburn and Pelosi are both correct. That's right, both of them.

Clyburn is saying he's a trustee, and Pelosi is saying she's a delegate. But neither of them can be, or should be, speaking for each other or for anybody else.

Well, they can if they want to, but it means dick. They are articulating the two approaches to not only "superdelegate" status, but to any elected office not entirely circumscribed by law.

For each approach, there can be a political price to pay -- loss of the position if they piss enough people off.

There is no "one size fits all" approach to this. If you think there should be, fine, then, think it. Just don't expect it to work in practice all the time, because it doesn't.

Posted by ivan | February 15, 2008 5:48 PM

Nice post ivan.

Posted by Mike of Renton | February 15, 2008 5:56 PM

Indeed, well said ivan.

As usual, while both Pelosi and Clayburn are talking about high moral principles, I think we all know it boils down to them lobbying to get the results they want, not any kind of actual principle.

Posted by also | February 15, 2008 6:00 PM

I think it's interesting to watch the shift in people's attitudes from "superdelegates R bad" to "don't mess with superdelegates" as the wind changes.

We've heard so much about Clinton's big superdelegate lead that we've lost sight of the fact that most of them haven't declared anything yet.

Posted by Fnarf | February 15, 2008 6:05 PM

Josh Marshall pointed out that the reason most of them won't announce a preference is that they are waiting to see which way the people go, and then they'll follow. Which means they won't upset the electorate's choice.

The one special case you might see is a convention where the two candidates are virtually tied. Then the superdelegates break the tie, and everyone thanks them for it.

Superdelegates and the rest of this system should get the axe next time around, though. I expect that once Obama has decided we are evolved enough, he will tell us how his people choose a president in the 24th century and that will settle it.

Posted by elenchos | February 15, 2008 6:30 PM
If that strikes some democrats as unfair, then they should have voiced their concerns before the primary season began. More likely, they are complaining now not out of a delicate sense of fairplay but instead because the independence of the superdelegates threatens their favored candidate.

Well, I don't think anyone specifically said "Yay superdelegates!" before the convention; it just wasn't considered a high-priority issue, because it was figured the superdelegates would not have gone against a candidate who won the most pledged delegates and had relatively widespread support.

It's not as if Obama is highly unpalatable to many Democratic voters. I don't think that his current position is significantly unreflective of the base's opinion of him. So is it a good idea for the party leadership to override the will of the rest of the party without a pretty solid reason?

(And yes - the same goes for Clinton too, I suppose, although the race doesn't seem poised to go that way.)

Posted by tsm | February 15, 2008 6:31 PM


No. If we go into the convention tied, there's no good outcome. The superdelegates may break the tie, but the results will be considered rigged by 50% of the party.

The best possible outcome in that situation is a floor fight, and that's not good, either.

Of course, this all assumes that one of the two candidates doesn't concede before the convention. Ahem. Billary? I'm lookin' at you, hon.

Posted by A Non Imus | February 15, 2008 6:42 PM

Yes, yes, yes. Count the votes from a state, Michigan, where Obama's name wasn't on the ballot and party rules prevented him from campaigning. Seriously, those who make that argument would make the former leaders of the Soviet Union proud.
The Democratic Party has already offered to let Michigan have a real election if they want, and to count the delegates from that. Anything more would be insane.

Posted by Mike in Iowa | February 15, 2008 6:47 PM

@14: Point taken, tsm, I just think it's a little late in the game to cry foul over the mere existence of superdelegates.

As for the purpose of superdelegates, I'd point people to this take over at the Kennedy School:

Governor Hunt, Chair of the Commission, also made the inclusion of more elected officials a top priority. In a statement that reflects the sense of helplessness with which many elected officials had watched the events of the 1980 nomination season, Hunt said, "We must also give our convention more flexibility to respond to changing circumstances and, in cases where the voters’ mandate is less than clear, to make a reasoned choice. One step in this direction would be to loosen the much-disputed “binding” Rule 11 (H) as it applies to all delegates. An equally important step would be to permit a substantial number of party leader and elected official delegates to be selected without requiring a prior declaration of preference. We would then return a measure of decision-making power and discretion to the organized party and increase the incentive it has to offer elected officials for serious involvement.” (Remarks of Governor Jim Hunt, Institute of Politics, JFK School of Government, December 15, 1981)

Looks to me like the existence of the superdelegates is so the elected officials can 1. have a say in things and 2. in event of unclear voter intentions push to a resolution. They want an invite to the party, but they don't need to be belle of the ball. The voters are still in control.

Posted by behelden | February 15, 2008 7:07 PM

It's worth mentioning that now is the only time anybody will have a conversation with you about superdelegates. After we have a nominee, they'll pack up the circus and move on the next election, and nobody will want to think about superdelegates at all.

Posted by elenchos | February 15, 2008 7:24 PM

The reason the superdelegate system has come under a microscope this year is because this is the first time in recent history that superdelegates have actually mattered. Normally by this time in the primary/caucus season the party has had a clear frontrunner and the convention is basically a coronation ceremony. People are paying attention to the system not because they are afraid of certain candidates winning or not winning based on the superdelegate vote, but because this is the first time the question of their role has been relevant.

Posted by RainMan | February 15, 2008 8:30 PM

Fnarf @ 12 says:

I think it's interesting to watch the shift in people's attitudes from "superdelegates R bad" to "don't mess with superdelegates" as the wind changes.

It's not necessarily "don't mess with them." If your vote has elected them, they are your employees and it's OK to make your wishes known. In fact, I'd say it is your responsibility.

The thought that say, Murray and Cantwell can be pressured by some online petition, though, is ridiculous. They didn't exactly get elected and re-elected by flying in the face of Democratic voters in this state.

As for the DNC superdelegates who are private citizens, they should be left the fuck alone. They do this on their own nickel.

Posted by ivan | February 15, 2008 8:32 PM

"On their own nickel?"

What does that mean? The superdelegates who weren't elected by anybody are a total mystery to me. Who asked them to have a say?

Posted by elenchos | February 15, 2008 9:24 PM

@21: the DNC. That's who set up the whole nominating process. They can do whatever they want. It's their party.

But really (and again): this superdelegates story seems like something ginned up to give reporters something to write about now that they're tired of covering the candidates and the election. It is tremendously boring and entirely unlikely to play the roll that political junkies are praying that it will.

Posted by josh | February 15, 2008 11:46 PM

Pelosi said “I think there is a concern when the public speaks and there is a counter-decision made to that.” She's right.

The public, by a large majority has said, "Impeach!" but she has led a "counter-decision" to that.

The public has said, "Get out of Iraq!" but, while no direct "counter-decision", there is no great leap of leadership to enact that public will.

Pick a side, Nancy: public will matters or not?

Posted by Stash | February 16, 2008 7:57 AM

If the will of the people is the goal, they should get rid of all the delegates and the convention and just count the votes and have everyone's vote count the same.

Posted by chicagogaydude | February 16, 2008 8:18 AM

I'm with @24. And while they're at it, they should get rid of the Electoral College. This relic from the 18th century originated with the idea that decisions are best made by the powdered-wigged aristocracy, not the common riffraff (i.e. the rest of us). Our representatives and senators are decided by the simple majority of all voters in the district or state. Why should the process of choosing our president be any different?

Posted by RainMan | February 16, 2008 9:31 AM

Superdelegate (for life!) and arch enemy of democracy Howard Dean wades in:

Some commentators have misrepresented who the “superdelegates” are and what their role is supposed to be. While it's premature to speculate what will happen as the process continues to unfold given that there are still over 1,000 pledged delegates yet to be selected, let’s look at who Undpledged delegates or "super delegates" are.

They are a diverse group of individuals who come from all parts of the country and all walks of life. They are local grassroots activists, county Party chairs, and local elected officials. They include all members of the DNC, all Democratic Members of Congress and all Democratic Governors, and a few former party leaders - all of whom have been elected by the people of their states and districts. Virtually all members of the DNC have been elected by their state party committees or Conventions, who in turn have been elected by grassroots Democratic voters. These members of the DNC have earned their positions by doing the difficult, unglamorous work of building the party organization day in and day out, when nobody is paying attention, year after year.

Their role is to exercise their best judgment in the interests of the nation and of the Democratic Party. I am confident that they will carry out that duty responsibly and in accordance with the highest values of our democracy and our Party.

Posted by RonK, Seattle | February 16, 2008 10:42 AM

All three paragraphs above s/b blockquoted. That's Dean's entire statement on the matter, from

Posted by RonK, Seattle | February 16, 2008 10:46 AM

@21 "The superdelegates who weren't elected by anybody are a total mystery to me. Who asked them to have a say?"

@21 you had an equal chance with anyone else to help choose those superdelegates or to be one. But seemingly you chose not to get involved in the Democratic Party nor even know the rules. You chose not to go to meetings where you would elect (say) the 43d district democrats officers including "State committeeman" and "state committeewoman" who then go on to elect the Washington State representatives to the Democratic National Committee who then become superdelegates. If you had put in the same volunteer hours as those folks, you could have run for those positions and had a good chance of being elected, too. This is all done at open meetings and you just chose not to be involved or to learn about hte process. As far as setting the rules, those are approved also through open meetings and adopted via votes by elected members at open meetings.

Lenin and Stalin would not approve of this as they made decisions and chose party members in an undemocratic and non-open member.

So stop confusing your own sloth and ignorance with the reality that the whole process is open and democratic.

Posted by Vox rationalis | February 16, 2008 11:18 AM

I am impressed with the higher level of discourse on this thread. Yay us.
Yes, it's probably due to opposition to superdelegates softening as the political winds blow more in favor of Obama. Funny thing that. Reminds me of the old style politics actually.

@24 and @25
Yes we have no democracy.

But if we are serious about change we need to chagne some fundamentals and not just talk about change.

--We should also get rid of the 1803 innovation that now deprives a few hundred thousand mainland US citizens of any voice in Congress. These are mostly African American folks, too, and mostly Democrats. But most of us across the nation just don't give a shit at all about this. We protested and wre shcoked to hear about 3.5 of a man in the US constitution when we were learning US history but these folks are only 0/5 of a man. No one cares.

--We need to abolish the US Senate to have democracy. The US Senate whose concurrence is needed in laws makes each of us a fraction of a man compared to those supervoters in the teeny tiny states when each state gets 2 seantors each. 2 Senators for a population of 450,000 in Wyoming makes them have many times the voting power of folks in CA NY IL FL NJ MA MI PA OH etc. which also get only 2 Senators for for huge populations that are 10-40 million each.

This isn't one person one vote and there's no good reason for it.

You can get 50% of the US Senators representing 20% of the population.

This is why we lack most progressive legislation & why conservatives win despite having minority positions on the war, on health care, etc.

Yawn. Who cares about that shit. We were all afeard OBama wouldn't win so we went on a tear condemning the undemocratic nature of superdelegates. Now they may not matter so everyone has calmed down. Let's forget the DC problem and the Senate problem and go back to sleepwalking and tolerating our hugely undemocratic system that in the end will block any change in a progressive direction. It's the system and no one is really challenging it.

Posted by UnPC | February 16, 2008 11:37 AM

@22, @28

I'm so sorry if I fail to sufficiently appreciate the hard work of the party hacks. If the doorbellers and envelope lickers and plank debaters had a history of making good choices, I'd trust them. In fact, the last 50 years will tell you the party insiders consistently pick the worst candidates. I don't think of them as working for me or for the good of the country.

They work for themselves, and anything that takes away their power and gives it back to the voters is a step forward.

Posted by elenchos | February 16, 2008 11:50 AM
We should also get rid of the 1803 innovation that now deprives a few hundred thousand mainland US citizens of any voice in Congress.

I fear feeding unPC, but I feel obliged to point out, regarding the issue alluded to here, that Bill Clinton ran on a pro-DC statehood platform in 1992, and basically forgot about it once elected. I'm not convinced another Clinton White House would necessarily be more dedicated to it.

Posted by tsm | February 16, 2008 12:31 PM

@31 - exactly, same with gays in the military and with gay marriage.

Reality check: Sen Clinton will not remember what she promised you, other than health care, once she's elected. She will trade her "support" to get things done, because that's her style, and it always has been.

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 16, 2008 1:10 PM


They work for themselves, and anything that takes away their power and gives it back to the voters is a step forward.

the voters didn't have "the power" until recently, basically the last 50 years. Abe, FDR, Teddy R, WW and JFK all came out of the bad back rooms.

Posted by ouch | February 16, 2008 1:53 PM

I have no idea who would be more dedicated to DC representation but it I'd hear OBama talk about it at least.

IT would be great if everyone who is for change, hope and unity would start talking about the issue too.
Change, unity, equality, hope, should mean that we must take action on DC so a few hundred thousand US citizens have voting rights in Congress and stop each being 0/5 of a person without equal rights as you or me. Letting them all remain 0/5 of a person isn't exactly change, unity, equality, civil rights or hope. It's the most severe discrminationwe've got going today among US citizens. I think it's pretty weird that no one really talks about it despite all the talk of change, unity, hope and civil rights and being against racism. It makes all that talk just seem to be talk.

I don't know that much about what Clinton did or didn't do. I know there was a bill recently to give DC one representative and no senators and I'm sure Obama and Clinton supported this weak mild partial measure. It also gave Utah one more representatiev btw.

But when I ehar this constant refrain of change, equality, hope, unity "I worked as a civil rights lawyer" and total silence on this severe discrimination it all just seems like everyone is engaged in bullshit talk and no action.

500,000+ citiznes with no voting rights. Ywan. Who cares? Let's go back to skiing, writing software and bitching about Obama or Clinton. Gee, it's not me or you who doesn't get to vote, is it, so who really cares?

Change, unity, hope rah rah rah..........

Posted by unPC | February 16, 2008 2:35 PM

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