It was amazing to watch the California race yesterday; things were far more fluid there than we had imagined. Clinton won the rural areas, while Obama took the cities. McCain just ended up having a strong day all around. It looks like McCain is the de-facto nominee for the GOP while the race between the two Dems has now branched into a full-on contest. Hillary took California convicingly.
But nationwide, Obama won several states that she should have taken – yesterdays results by all measures are a tie. McCain’s party does a “winner take all ” thing so he’s coming out ahead, but Obama vs. Clinton will continue to be a battle. How does the superdelegate count , change this race?
Here at reliable politics we report delegates based on formal award by the party. “It ain’t over till its over!”. Obama’s results here will receive those delegates awarded when he won the hotly contested Iowa primary. And Clinton’s formal delegate count from California will update accordingly. New Mexico is still out – a very tight race there. The goal here is veracity. My post about California yesterday was an exploration of how the different areas in California are dividing up the vote – democrats allocate their delegates based on population. People from the valley tended to vote for Hillary, people on the Coast voted for Obama. So Obama may end up with a strong count out of it all.
Most media outlets are reporting the race as a split race, with a very narrow margin for either candidate being reported. Here, one would think that Hillary has a significant lead by over 100 delegates. This is due to inclusion of the pledged superdelegates. Are these superdelegates actually worth counting? Yes. Will they decide the contest? Good question.
Superdelegates are not a deciding factor in most contests. Of the 4,049 delegates in the democratic convention, only 796 are superdelegate. 81.4% of the vote will come from the pledged delegates, who are awared by the percentage of the win. For the GOP, there is a larger bloc of unpledged delegates that generally move in the direction of the popular vote. However, the pledged GOP delegates have to take 15% of the vote to get them. GOP calculus is a bit more straightforward and as the process unfolds, it may be a harbinger of things to come with the democratic process.
Unlike pledged delegates, Superdelegates are not required to indicate a preference for a candidate. They are heads of state, former trusted members of the party, etc. Here is a list of the superdelegates and their linked statements of support. Please note that any superdelegate from a sanctioned state is automatically knocked off the list. Florida and Michigan screwed the pooch. Their vote would have counted just as much in the later part of the contest, as it would have in the early stage. They tried to co-opt a front loaded primary schedule and failed. They won’t do that again.
CNN reports Obama winning by a count of the the pledged delegates of 785 to 777 over Clinton. If one includes pledged superdelegates, then Hillary takes a win over Obama.
What I am writing about here is the question – how fluid is the superdelegate vote? Once a superdelegate commits to a candidate, do they ever switch? Will the supdelegate counts, in this race, act as a deciding factor?
I have found that the majority of superdelegates do not endorse a candidate until after the primary is over. There are only 311 superdelegates pledging their support for one candidate or another, at time of writing. That leaves 485 of the 796 superdelegates not formally committed. Many of the superdelegates simply refuse to endorse a candidate until after the primary.
Obama has increased his share of the superdelegates pledging from 29 to 34% and won 51% of the last round of superdelegate pledges although he is not at parity with this figure. There is a surprising number of establishment officials in the party that are willing to back Obama. The wine-and-dining has begun in earnest for these delegates and given yesterday’s results, it will get even more interesting.
But do they decide contests?
Matt Bai offers an interesting perspective. His idea is that the democratic party itself is changing, moving to a stronger base, casting the Obama campaign in terms of generational incursion. Historically – we see in both parties a clear trend, with only one historical exception (that actually never panned out in the mondale/hart battle some twenty years ago or so) – of the superdelegates essentially following the popular vote. Matt Bai also offers that the superdelegate vote itself, represents the establishment vs. the new base. In either case, the superdelegate vote is suspect, as a factor in this race.
There is a dirty secret in the Democratic party, that will not become widescale public knowledge – in that superdelegates represent 0.0007% of the membership controlling 19.6% of the voting power. This is the reason why superdelegates keep their votes fluid.
A classic example of this, is in fact the huge superdelegate count lead that Howard Dean maintained in 2004. When it was clear that he had lost momentum, the delegates quickly switched their loyalties and abandoned him entirely. Dean would have been reported as having a clear lead, after Iowa. Think of this: a person whose campaign utterly imploded, would have to be reported as winning the overall race – if the superdelegate count is included.
Certainly, the Dems will not want to appear that they are an aristocracy. Would you feel comfortable with an appointed, as opposed to elected – president? Years of the Bush Administration would suggest otherwise.
Superdelegates will likely follow the general primary results; the large number of uncommitted superdelegates likely represents 60% vs. 40% in favor of Hillary Clinton. But since this is only 19 percent of the vote, that 20 percent advantage amounts to .19 x .20 = 3.8% advantage. That is the measure of the fluidity of the superdelegate factor, in real terms – about 100 delegates that can be made up out of basically, three states.
So something to keep in mind: if the candidates begin to develop momentum in approximately three states more to one, than another – then the race will tip and we will have a winner despite the superdelegate count.
However, it is a factor – since at time of writing this whole thing is headed off to a brokered convention. The battle that I thought would happen in the GOP seems to be located in the Dems, it would appear that the GOP now has their winner. Watch the gloves come off with the Dems. They will not be moving to try to appear to be an aristocracy and the two candidates battling for the nomination both want it very badly. “May you live in interesting times”. Is that an old chinese saying – or a curse?