Are Superdelegates Too Powerful?

Wednesday, 26 Mar 2008 02:01 PM

By Ralph Hostetter

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Whether the superdelegates prove to be useful or a hindrance to the democratic process of the Democratic Party will soon be evident.

Superdelegates are a special body of elected officials and party functionaries which include governors, members of Congress and other party leaders. In total they number 795.

The original purpose for superdelegates was to restore some of the control over candidate selection which had been wrested from party leaders after the tumultuous 1968 convention which eventually nominated Hubert Humphrey, who went on to lose to Richard M. Nixon. The confusion of the convention led Democrats then to increase the role of the primaries and decrease the power of party delegates in the selection process.

Some Democrats believed that changing these political policies diminished the role of party leaders and elected officials, weakening the Democratic tickets of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter, leading to their defeat. In 1982, a commission chaired by former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt created superdelegates.

Superdelegates have a power that challenges the authority of the general electorate. The power vested in each of the superdelegates has been estimated to equal 10,000 citizen votes.

Illustrative of this power is the recent suggestion by one of the superdelegates, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, that a caucus be held by the superdelegates following the last primary election in June but prior to the Democrat National Convention in Denver, Colo., in August to select the Democrat candidate for the upcoming presidential election.

At the present time, 2,025 delegates are required to win the nomination to the candidacy of president of the United States. The number of 2,025 delegates excludes any delegates from either Michigan or Florida. Those states were disqualified by the Democrat National Committee for having violated the national party rules by holding early primary elections.

Florida has given up on its efforts to be re-instated, while Michigan's fate is awaiting a state Supreme Court decision on the legality of the Democrat National committee's decision.

To date, state primaries have awarded 1,414 delegates to Sen. Barack Obama and 1,247 delegates to Sen. Hillary Clinton. Of the 795 superdelegates, 250 are claimed by Clinton; 214 by Obama, with the remaining 331 superdelegates unpledged.

Of the 2,025 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination, Barack Obama has a total of 1,628 pledged primary and superdelegates to Hillary Clinton's 1,497, a gap of some 131 delegates.

At the present time, Barack Obama leads very slightly in popular vote with some 14,265,537 or 47.6 percent votes to Hillary Clinton's 14,061,120 votes, or 47.0 percent. This represents a difference of some 204,417 votes, about 0.6 percent.

The foregoing vote totals include estimates from the states of Iowa, Nevada, Maine and Washington, which have not released their popular vote totals, and include the tally from Florida and Michigan. Obama’s name was not on the ballot in Michigan.

It is obvious from the closeness of both the number of pledged delegates and the primary election popular vote totals that separate Barack Obama and Hllary Clinton that neither can achieve the majority necessary to be nominated. Therefore, the superdelegates will play an important role.

Competition between the two candidates to secure the votes of the superdelegates has broken out into the public arena. Already, national politicians are lining up on each side of the political spectrum, with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who was energy secretary and United Nations ambassador for President Bill Clinton, drawing the first fire with his open endorsement of Barack Obama.

It is no secret that a majority of Democrats did not like the idea of superdelegates in the first place. This was confirmed by a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey. Its report was released on March 17 and revealed that 50 percent of Democrats said superdelegates were a bad idea, while 42 percent thought they were a good idea. Still, 49 percent of Democrats said superdelegates should base their votes on their view of who would be the best candidate, whiile 48 percent said superdegates should decide based on the results of primaries and caucuses, either nationally or in their state or congressional district.

In the event neither Obama or Clinton receives the necessary 2,025 majority for the nomination, the superdelegates no doubt will make the final decision.

The issue of race, so carefully avoided up to this point, has entered the presidential campaign with the revelation that Barack Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of the Trinity Unity Church of Christ, has made statements condeming and cursing America and its white population and stating that the United States developed the disease of AIDS to eliminate the black population in the country.

Barack Obama broadcast a speech on Sunday, March 16, explaining his close and continuous relationship with his pastor, the Rev. Wright, but denying that this has in any way influenced him.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign has come into question with her comments about a visit she made to Bosnia during the administration of President Bill Clinton. She described having to duck and run to escape sniper fire upon exiting the aircraft.

CBS coverage of her actual arrival in Bosnia indicated there was no apparent danger within the area of the airport. She has since answered criticism by explaining that she misspoke.

It’s a long way to August, and meanwhile the continuing personal attacks between the two candidates does nothing more than hurt the entire Democrat campaign.

Ralph Hostetter, a prominent businessman and agricultural publisher, also is a national and local award-winning columnist. He welcomes e-mail comments at eralphhostetter@yahoo.com.

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