Friday, February 22, 2008

Democrats' dirty delegate secret is out

(Originally published 2/23/08)

Think the Democratic presidential campaign is in knots now? Hang on.

Barack Obama made it 10-for-10 with victories over Hillary Clinton in contests in Wisconsin and Hawaii Tuesday while trend numbers continued to reflect his increasing reach into her core base of supporters. So-called superdelegates, those Democratic officeholders and party insiders with mystical, hocus-pocus unrestricted nominating powers, became the subject of heavy lobbying from both camps.

Clinton adviser Harold Ickes said Monday that he expects the decision to come down to the 795 superdelegates, who should “exercise their best judgment” with their votes, the results in their home districts notwithstanding.

Ickes then announced that he would hereafter refer to superdelegates as “automatic delegates,” because calling them “superdelegates” insinuates that they have too much power.

(Never mind, I guess, that he had just predicted that they would decide the nomination, thus demonstrating … their power.)

Clinton’s campaign launched a web site listing five reasons why “super-automatic-single-and-looking” delegates should not be expected to vote as their districts did, apparently in hopes of providing political cover to them. Obama’s campaign responded by asking his supporters to “share your story with a superdelegate,” hoping that peer pressure would turn up the heat on anyone getting squishy.

Then, just when we thought understood this delegate madness at least enough to know what to call them, The Politico’s Roger Simon on Tuesday revealed the Democrats’ dirty little delegate secret: Pledged delegates aren’t really “pledged” at all; since nothing in DNC rules binds them to vote for any particular candidate based on that candidate’s performance in his state, they are just as “super” as their more popular (for now, anyway) counterparts.

“The notion that pledged delegates must vote for a certain candidate is, according to the Democratic National Committee, a ‘myth,’” Simon said, calling it “an open secret in the party for years … that has never really mattered because there has almost always been a clear victor by the time the convention convened.”

Simon said one “high-ranking Clinton official” told him that if the nomination is still not settled by the convention in August, “‘everyone will be going after everybody’s delegates.’”

In other words, forget those cute, color-coded delegate count bubbles at the bottom of CNN’s screen. And stock up on popcorn while you can, because once delegates realize that they are all up for grabs, “must-see TV” is going to take on a whole new meaning in Denver.

Thursday, the candidates met in Texas for their last debate before the March 4 contests. Clinton needed to land several body blows against Obama to stop his momentum, but her performance was forgettable – until the end.

Clinton said whatever challenges she faces are nothing compared to those of wounded soliders, such as the ones she observed making their way into opening ceremonies for the Brooke Army Medical Hospital last year.

CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin said Clinton’s response, while eloquent, had a “valedictory” feel to it.

Valedictory: a closing or farewell statement or address.

As Obama basked in the victory of the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3, CNN pundit Gloria Borger noted the difficulty Clinton faced: “She’s running against inspiration,” Borger said.

The bottom line is that wonks don’t match up well against dreamers – especially in this nation, founded on the grandest of dreams.

Stop by the blog this weekend for my take on the John McCain-New York Times dust-up, some new words this election season has produced and a surprise for local readers:

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