Delegate math: the latest numbers

Delegate math continues to be Hillary Rodham Clinton’s nemesis. And what was once her strength — the superdelegate count — is now her weakness. Clinton is universally expected to win big in West Virginia today. The latest West Virginia poll listed on pollster.com has her ahead by a mind-boggling 60-24 percent. If she is of a mind to say so tonight, she can certainly claim that this says something powerful about her appeal (the competing prediction is that she will seize the moment of triumph to bow out). But here’s why pretty much no victory tonight, no matter how convincing, can revive her chances much:

Since the last primary, a week ago when Barack Obama’s big win in North Carolina and her narrow win in Indiana compelled the commentariat to acknowledge that the outcome of the nominations was no longer in doubt, Obama has gained 25 new superdelegate commitments (according, as usual in these parts, to the tally maintained by DemConWatch).

During the same week, Clinton has picked up a net (when you subtract for those who formerly committed to her but switched last week to Obama) of one superdelegate.

West Virginia has just 28 pledged delegates, who will be awarded on a proportional basis after tonight’s counting. So here’s the rub: Even if she were to win the one and only primary of the week by a mind-boggling 80-20 margin, she would still have lost ground for the week on the ultimate scorecard, which is total delegates gained.

Heading into West Virginia, Obama stands 36 delegates short of locking up a majority of the pledged delegates. He won’t win many tonight, but next Tuesday come Kentucky (with 51 delegates and Clinton holding a very substantial lead in polls) and Oregon (with 52 pledged delegates at stake and Obama expected to win a majority). It seems pretty dang likely that a week from tonight Obama will lock up the majority of pledged delegates, gaining  what some consider an important new argument to make that the remaining uncommitted superdels should get off the fence and end the contest.

A small but potentially influential group of superdelegates, sometimes called the “Pelosi Club” because they have endorsed an idea put forth by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have announced that they plan to support whoever wins the majority of the pledged delegates. There are just nine Pelosi Club members, including the speaker, her daughter Christine and former President Jimmy Carter.

We haven’t had much of a discussion thread on the subject, so before it disappears from view, let me pose the question to MinnPost readers: If you were a superdelegate, let’s say a Democratic member of Congress, would you base your support primarily on:

which candidate carried your district in a primary or caucus;

carried your state;

agreed with you the most on the issues;

you believed would be the stronger general election candidate; or

you believed would be the best president.

What think?

Tuesday morning update: As the polls were opening in West Virginia, the Obama campaign rolled out two more superdelegate endorsements, from U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Just to nail down the point from above, that means that Clinton would have to take the West Virginia pledged delegates by 28-0 to win the week.

And p.s.: 
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson said two things on MPR this morning relative to his role as Minnesota’s last uncommitted superdelegate:

Thing 1.
The fact that Obama carried his district in the Minnesota caucuses would carry great weight in his deliberations when he gets around to thinking about endorsing.

Thing 2.
He doesn’t think there should be any superdelegates.

Please feel free to add Peterson’s thing 2 to the items for discussion. Should there be superdelegates?

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Jim Mogen on 05/13/2008 - 10:38 am.

    I would choose “most electable,” if I were a superdelegate. However, I believe the problem with the superdelegate system is that too many do not make the tough choice. They simply created an “add on”, by endorsing based on the results of their district or state. Or, made the commitment too early, before the vetting process of the campaign.

    It would seem that policy diffences and “best president” analysis would not be helpful, because the two front runners do not differ substantially. There are style differences, but they both support the core Democratic mission, without being willing to move to either extreme.

    In my opinion, superdelegates exist for two purposes, ensuring that the Party endorse the most electable candidate, and ensuring a spot at the convention for the Party’s elected officials and elder statesmen (and stateswomen).

    While I believe that Obama is the most electable, the superdelegates have not determined that, and had no part in directing the endorsement. Too many took the political move, and endorsed based on their district or personal loyalty. The superdelegates really simply served to drag on the campaign. Since the supers have never really used their power in 25+ years (even when it was appropriate, like this year), it would behoove the Party to limit superdelegates as an honor for the leaders and statesmen.

  2. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 05/13/2008 - 10:42 am.

    If I was a superdelegate, I’d go with the strongest general election candidate unless I had some reason to believe that they would be an especially bad president. I’d probably also hold off on expressing my vote until after the primaries had played out a bit. I’d hope each of the supers would want their role to be the most minimal possible to avoid looking like they were thwarting the electorate.
    The idea of having superdelegates makes some sense but only on a much smaller level than the Dem party currently has. Something like 10% of the total delegate count rather than a full third. I’ll be shocked if their number isn’t drastically reduced before 2012.

  3. Submitted by Welna Welna on 05/13/2008 - 07:42 pm.

    I disagree with the superdelegate system. It has the potential to overide the entire system and democratic principals. That being said, if I was a superdelegate I would support the candidate that I believed would make the best President. Electability would be a strong additional consideration.

  4. Submitted by John E Iacono on 05/16/2008 - 10:34 pm.

    I have been wondering if the primaries should not be “winner take all”, and what that would mean for the present primaries contest.

  5. Submitted by Justin Adams on 05/16/2008 - 04:08 pm.

    I do not understand superdelegates, on several levels. My spell checker is unaware of their existence, which immediately raises a red-flag for me.

    I strongly agree with Congressman Peterson’s second point. First off, I can’t believe it is legal for two groups who are beyond public oversight to control all of the reasonable access to public office. I can hardly believe that the states, in antiquity, gave away their authority overseeing the only elections that matter, the nominating contests, although before information moved so fast, there was much corruption, so I guess I believe it.

    That the two parties, and particularly the democratic party, adopted party rules which provide such a blatant Hamiltonian check on popular sentiment in the selection of the chief executive is, well, in my view unconstitutional.

    I think the constitution suggests another method by which the chief executive should be chosen, and I don’t believe it vests any powers in private oragnaizations. But I’m kind of a crazy.

    I would like to read the transcripts of the meetings when the superdelegate system was debated and adopted. The least that our elite party leaders could do is furnish a latter-day federalist paper to justify the odd constitutionalism of the party.

    If I were a US Congressman, and therefore standing for election, I would vote w/ my district. If I did not face election, like 2/3 of the Senate and ex presidents, I would vote for the person I thought would be the best president.

    The only people who like the system are superdelegates who feel entitled to more representation. Anyone who deserves the honor of being a super and is one wishes they were not, because some people in politics “keep score” and the supers end up having to alienate a potential ally and face public criticism.

    One criteria I might consider is personal friendship. Sen. Dayton supports Clinton, but they were desk mates for 6 years, and he said he’d support her before the Obama effect in Minnesota was known. I can’t fault him for keeping his word to a friend. Also, I do not know if Gov. Dayton has a floor pass for Denver or not.

    I disagree with electability. It is too hard to predict what will be decisive for voters in the future.

    I think that pre-convention committee membership such as rules, credentials etc are sufficient for established party interests to exert conservative influence, make sure Tipper has a slot to speak in, etc.

    Bottom line, I don’t think anyone needs 10,000 times as many votes as me, and I think a system where citizens lack equal representation is not a republic. If we have to chose between Tipper’s speech and one-man, one vote, I side with the 14th amendment.

    Finally. Obama is, in my opinion, the first electable person I’ve seen either party offer for president. All my life, the winning candidate was simply “less unelectable” than his opponent. Carter was more unelectable. Mondale. Dukakis. Bush 1. Dole. Both Bush 2 and Gore were unelectable as could be – and Kerry? Come on.

    RFK was electable. Eisenhower. FDR. But they were also the best candidates (sorry Humph…). Supers should vote as patriots for the best person to lead our country.

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