Friends, family, acquaintances, and total strangers have begun calling and emailing me on the subject of so-called “superdelegates,” and I’m exasperated with the amount of misinformation going around and the ignorance being shown.
Some of the confusion seems to originate from the use of the term “superdelegate.” The correct term is “unpledged delegate.” The only difference between them and other delegates is that they’re not required to vote for a particular candidate on the first ballot at the DNC’s Denver convention. They have absolutely no super powers — none of them have x-ray vision or the ability to fly.
Some of the problem is that people mistakenly believe the pledged delegates are selected in a fair or egalitarian way. This is untrue for a variety of reasons. Some states have winner-take-all primaries, some hold caucuses which are inherently undemocratic, and some award delegates based on bizarre mathematical formulae that don’t really represent the people’s choice. For example, though Clinton got more support in the Nevada caucuses, Obama received more delegates from that state! What’s fair about that?
Another common misconception is that unpledged delegates are something new, but the truth is they were created after the 1980 election.
Many people seem to believe the unpledged delegates are selected in mysterious ways. The truth is that every single one is elected: they are either Congressmembers, Governors, former Presidents and Vice Presidents, current and former majority and minority leaders, former chairs of the DNC, current DNC members, and other elected Democrats. Each of these people was elected to the position they hold.
But the strangest idea I hear articulated is that the unpledged delegates will vote in a way that will somehow damage the Party or cause the “wrong” candidate to be nominated.
I’m not a DNC member myself but I know a few of them well enough to understand what motivates them. These are people who have dedicated their lives to the Democratic Party. However they decide to vote at the Denver convention, Democrats can rest assured the DNC’s delegates will base their decisions entirely on what they think is in the best interest of the Party.
Clearly some of the unpledged delegates who are not DNC members have additional priorities. President Clinton will certainly vote for his wife, as will their friend and former DNC Chair Terry McAuliff. A senator who’s been promised a cabinet position by Obama will vote for him. And so forth.
What, on the other hand, is the motivation of the pledged delegates? They’re required to vote for their candidate on the first ballot, but if a second or third ballot is required in Denver, what will the pledged delegates do?
We don’t yet know who California’s pledged delegates will be, but I’ve met several folks who plan to run at the April 13 caucuses. Particularly in the case of Obama supporters, some were decline-to-state voters until recently. Many are fiercely loyal to their Presidential candidate but care very little about what happens to the Party or our down-ticket candidates. In a second or third ballot, can they be trusted to vote in the best interest of the Party?
The constant bickering about the role of unpledged delegates serves only one purpose: to divide and weaken the Democratic Party. The sooner we stop fighting among ourselves, the better we’ll be able to help our nominees defeat the Republicans in November.