Feature

Will superdelegates decide?

Barack Obama swept more presidential nominating contests over the weekend, edging ahead of Hillary Clinton in the delegate count, said Marty Kaplan in The Huffington Post, but the behind-the-scenes fight for backing from party insiders known as superdeleg

What happenedBarack Obama swept the presidential nominating contests in Maine, Louisiana, Nebraska, and Washington state over the weekend. Obama has edged ahead of Clinton in the elected-delegate count, although Clinton holds a slight overall lead because she has more support from party so-called superdelegates. These party insiders will go into the convention free to back either candidate, and in a close race they could have the numbers to pick the nominee. (AP in The Washington Post, free registration)

What the commentators saidThe battle for the superdelegates has begun, said Marty Kaplan in The Huffington Post. “Both campaigns are deploying every gun they have,” staffing “boiler rooms” that work “24/7 to squeeze public endorsements from as many of the 796 superdelegates as they can before the Party's convention in August.” Clinton has lured more superdelegates to her side so far, but it’s anybody’s guess “which side this insider’s contest will lock up the nomination for,” and whether “the recipients of all these love-bombs can turn the individual attention they're getting into something good and important for the country as a whole.”

This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, said Democratic strategist Tad Devine in The New York Times (free registration). The Democrats created the superdelegates in 1980, after a close primary contest left the party divided. The idea was that the party insiders would help the party unite—not reverse the decision of voters. This summer, the superdelegates should do their intended job and “ratify the results of the primaries and caucuses in all 50 states by moving as a bloc toward the candidate who has proved to be the strongest in the contest that matters.”

Democratic voters have been treated to a “rousing” and “messy” race this year, said Newsday in an editorial. But if the fight spills into the convention with “no clear winner” things could spin out of control, “prompting a brokered convention—a return to the arm-twisting, multiple ballots and deal-making of the old smoke-filled rooms.” If superdelegates wind up deciding the winner, it will “be a sorry end to a bracing fight better decided by the party's voters.”

The end could be even sorrier than Democrats think, said Theodore B. Olson in The Wall Street Journal. The “real fun” could be in legal wrangling reminiscent of the Bush v. Gore battle in 2000. Democrats complained bitterly when Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the presidency to George Bush thanks to the Electoral College system. Now they have set up a “Rube Goldberg nominating process that could easily produce a result much like the Electoral College result in 2000: a winner of the delegate count, and thus the nominee, over the candidate favored by a majority of the party's primary voters.”

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