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Monday, March 31, 2008
By Steven L. Taylor

The LAT has a profile of Clinton operative Harold Ickes: Ickes is Clinton’s not-so-secret weapon.

Ickes is of interest at the moment, because he is “the man in charge of Clinton’s feverish effort to lock up superdelegates”.

And, at the moment,

Clinton is ahead among superdelegates, but the margin has been slipping. In December, she led Obama by 106 superdelegates. In early February, the number was down to 87. Today it is 36, according to Associated Press surveys.

Ickes runs the superdelegate operation from a third-floor war room in this suburb across the Potomac River from the capital. About 20 aides are divided into teams. One woos the uncommitted; another works to prevent defections.

Of course that last matter is no small thing, as at this stage of the game, the votes of the superdelegates are far from a wholly settled matter.

This entire process is rather interesting to watch, and I have to wonder when all is said and done if the DNC will wish to keep the supderdelegate mechanism in place. My guess is that barring an utterly disastrous outcome this summer, change will be too difficult to achieve and so the system will persist, and probably return to its previous incarnation of being an background idiosyncrasy of the party, rather than a center-stage player.1

On paper the system makes some semblance of sense, i.e., the creation of a mechanism to manage a potentially problematic primary season and to diminish the chances of a bloody mess at the national convention. However, in reality the system is rather problematic as what it ultimately does is top off a democratic process (i.e., primaries and caucuses at the state level) with an elite-controlled one. A voter could rightly ask: why did we bother tolerating all those commercials, speeches and rallies, let alone the whole voting thing, if it really comes down to 800 party elites? Now, granted, the actions of those voters will influence said elites, but it is still a legitimate question. It strikes me as further relevant if the party in question is one that cultivates an image of being the one more oriented towards the mass public and attempts to paint the other major party as the party of the elite.

Having said all of that, the Clinton campaign’s attempt to secure as many superdelegates as possible as their main (indeed, only) real shot at the nomination is perfectly legitimate given the current rules. Still, I must confess that the notion of a high-powered political operative and his staff calling up party elites to lobby for their votes to be a tad distasteful–at least in the context of a system of candidate selection that is ostensibly democratic.2

  1. Because the likelihood of another nomination fight being this close again in the near future is quite small. []
  2. Although given the flaws in the system, one oughtn’t give too much credence to the purity of its democratic nature…Although regardless of problems with who starts the process (i.e, the Iowa/New Hampshire fetish) or issues of whether caucuses provide equal opportunity for all voters to participate and so forth, those mechanisms trump elite-driven ones if the goal is a democratized candidate selection process. []
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2 Responses to “The Superdelegate Race”

  1. Max Lybbert Says:

    I’m not so sure that a close primary is unlikely. If I understand correctly, the reason the primary is close has to do with divvying up the regular delegates on a proportional basis. And that was instituted after Jesse Jackson failed to get the nomination.

    I believe the policy of handing out delegates proportionately was first used in ’92. I’m surprised it didn’t lead to a close primary then. But after ’92 we’ve got ’96 (President Clinton running for re-election, so no real primary), ’00 (Gore running, not a close primary), and ’04 (Kerry). ’92, ’04, and ’08 are really the only years where a close primary was possible. The fact that it hasn’t happened more often may be simply a fluke. There really isn’t enough data to determine how close future primaries will be.

  2. Ken Laureys Says:

    The launch of http://www.LobbyDelegates.com for the first time empowers grassroots Democrats with the only 1-stop portal for influencing Super Delegates, the nearly 800 top party officials allowed to vote for any Presidential candidate they choose at the Nominating Convention.

    Super Delegates’ votes could be decisive in a continuing close race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Both candidates remain better than 600 delegates shy of the 2,024 “magic number” for clinching the nomination. Given this math, neither candidate is expected to win enough pledged delegates during the 10 remaining state primaries to clinch a victory before the August 25th convention in Denver.

    This likelihood has led some Democratic leaders to recently suggest holding a special Super Delegate Primary in June to avoid the intra-party rancor anticipated from a brokered convention.

    With such high stakes, many Democrats want greater Super Delegate accountability–by endorsing either the candidate who won their state primary, or the one winning the most delegates from all primaries nationwide. LobbyDelegates.com enables rank-and-file Democrats to communicate such grassroots views directly to these Super Delegates–who include party leaders, governors, mayors, state and Congressional lawmakers.

    Users of LobbyDelegates.com can communicate with some or all of their state’s Super Delegates, who are categorized by whether they’re currently supporting Clinton or Obama, or have stayed Uncommitted. Users can thus tailor messages urging Super Delegates to switch candidates, or switch from being uncommitted to one candidate or the other. Users can even lobby Super Delegates to stay uncommitted until the Convention.

    The LobbyDelegates.com website is strictly impartial and is not affiliated with any political party, candidate, campaign or advocacy group. LobbyDelegates.com was created as a public service under the auspices of the StateDemocracy Foundation. This tax-exempt nonprofit was established in 1999 to run http://www.StateDemocracy.org — a civic engagement portal dedicated to delivering democracy to your desktop!


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