A.D asks: What are super delegates and why do people keep mentioning them?

Asking questions is great. Asking questions and then finding your own answers is even better. I will try and ask honest questions (meaning I really don’t know or I don’t know the answer well enough enough to explain to others) and I will try to answer them in a straightforward fact based way. The first one is easy enough–you would think that a self professed political junkie like me would know the answer: What are super delegates (exactly)?

I know they are the unpledged delegates to the Democratic Convention, but I would like to know a little bit more. How many are there and why are they so important?

From Wikipedia:

“By contrast, the superdelegates are seated based solely on their status as current or former elected officeholders and party officials. They are free to support any candidate for the nomination, although many of them have publicly announced endorsements. At the 2008 Democratic National Convention the superdelegates shall comprise approximately one-fifth of the total number of delegates. The unforeseen and unprecedented closeness of the race between the leading contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama following Super Tuesday has focused attention on the potential role of the superdelegates in selecting the Democratic nominee, inasmuch as in the aggregate they could come to be kingmakers to a degree not seen in previous election cycles. [1] Such an outcome would result in the first brokered convention since 1952.”

Okay. A pretty straight answer, but to prove that I am not merely reliant on Wikipedia, I’ll run “super delegates” through the RCP search engine.

Thomas Lifson:

“But neither Clinton nor Obama is likely to accumulate the necessary 2,205 majority of delegates by the time of the convention, thanks to proportional distribution and the 796 super delegates, 243 of them pledged to Clinton and 156 to Obama. Counting super delegates, Clinton has 1,125 and Obama has 1,087, according to Beth Fouhy of the AP.” 

I am not trying to read so much into the different political tactics and rules employed by each party, but I think it is interesting that the Republicans basically use a pretty simple winner take all primary system while the Democrats utilize the more complicated proportional system. Clearly the latter seems a bit more populist. I have another example of political behavior influenced by political philosophy that comes from Peter Robinson’s small, but informative book ‘It’s My Party.’ Republicans have a hard time managing Congress (especially the House) when they are in power and have a hard time staying in power, Robinson says, because they’re just not that into the bureaucratic grind of the idea. Democrats, however, do rather well, and usually hold the majority. Republicans, on the other hand, do much better in executive positions like the presidency and governorships. This analysis seems especially apt when Republicans (and not without a small bit of pride) bemoan the fact that so few like-minded and qualified would-be politicians stay in the private sector where they excel instead of venturing into public servitude. But that’s another post for another day.

Lifson goes on to talk about Hegelian conservatives. I stopped reading after that.

J.T. Now there’s an oxymoron for you…”Hegelian conservative.” I always thought that superdelegates were just normal delegates that put on a cape and mask and skulked around conventions. Oh well, there goes my Marvel Comics deal.

J.T. From Fox News via DNC

-appx. 800 out of 4000 total delegates are superdelegates
-29 are governors of states and protectorates, including Puerto Rico and American Samoa
-211 are members of the House of Representatives
-44 are Senators
-397 are members of the DNC

They are all free to vote for whomever they want. As a result, these superdelegates are courted by the candidates. The Clintons are both notorious courters, but Obama is getting into the act as well. It will be interesting to see their effect on the election.


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