What is a superdelegate? Who is a superdelegate? How do I get one? Well, here is a post attempting to explain the Democratic phenomenon (those two words cancel each other out, as you will see soon) that are the superdelegates.
To begin with, only the Democratic party has superdelegates. They first came into the fold in the 1970s when the caucus and voting in the primary elections became most important to electing a party representative. To ensure that some control still remained in party official hands, the Democratic party created the ‘superdelegates’ titles, thus ensuring that 14% (though now as high as 20%) of all caucus votes could be controlled without a people’s vote.
Note from Thomas: That seems like a somewhat undemocratic process to me. But it also looks like an essential one too. It helps to save face with the party, and to even ensure that a certain person gets nominated. But it’s not a decision left to ‘the people’. Sort of like keeping a trump card to yourself and only yourself. A tough call to make on this front.
The Republican party, while they don’t have ‘official’ superdelegates, have 135 unpledged delegated (in the same way the superdelegates aren’t pledged). They play the same role as the superdelegates, though are obviously less in number. I suspect that they are there to ensure that a tie, or at least post-third round voting, doesn’t make the party look like a joke.
So what do these superdelegates do? Well, it’s rather simple. There are a certain number attached to each state, but not attached to the state’s voting. For example, take New Hampshire just gone. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote (40%), and will take 3 state and 6 district delegates from that. Barrack Obama came second (36%) and still wins 3 and 6 delegates from that too. However, the superdelegates are not bound to follow what the voters decide, and can freely choose who they want. So while Clinton may have own the 9 delegates from the New Hampshire vote, she only won 2 superdelegates over during the process. Obama won 3 superdelegates. At the end of the day, Obama wins more delegates from the state, 12 to 11.
The superdelegates are not bound to pledge their intentions on who they will vote for on the day of the vote. No, they are free to pledge much earlier or later. Thus, before the primary process even began, Clinton had a lead already because she had won over more superdelegates. During the 2004 cycle, and before the primary race began, Howard Dean was favourite to win the race. Why? Because he had won over more superdelegates. This is why schmoozing and charming in D.C. helps. Why you ask?
Simple: The superdelegates are elected party members who already hold an office or are party officials. For example, Senator Barack Obama is a superdelegate from Illinois. He was before he put his name in. Senator Hillary Clinton is a superdelegate from New York, and was before the race. Representative Dennis Kucinich is a superdelegate too. Howard Dean, now the Democratic National Committee chairman, is also a superdelegate. Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and former Vice President Al Gore, are all superdelegates. As you can see, all types of Democratic officeholders (Senators, Representatives, Governors, Mayors, D.N.C. persons, Presidents, and V.P.’s) are all in the running to be a superdelegate. And, given the amount of superdelegates, you have a good chance of being one if you make it to D.C..
Before the race gets to the voting, a lot of superdelegates have already officially pledged. For a list of who has officially spoken about who they will support, see 2008 Democratic Convention Watch – Announced Superdelegate List. All the people on that list have said that they intend to pledge to a certain candidate come the Convention. Similarly, they would have said that a long time ago – before the voting started, before everyone was announced, while the candidates were asking for advice. It might now be clear to you why some people run and why others don’t. It’s quite simple – a person runs if they think they can get ample support from superdelegates and win states in the primary race. Thus we see that the superdelegates have significant control in the process.
Thankfully though, there are always superdelegates who wait until their state has voted (and then pledge), or wait until the convention, or wait until a candidate already has a clear majority, and then pledges. People like Al Gore and Jimmy Carter are free to do this. For a list of unpledged superdelegates see 2008 Democratic Convention Watch – Unpledged Superdelegate List. You will see that Senator Chris Dodd and Senator Joe Biden are on that list – two former Democratic candidates from this race. The two lists change, and have the potential to change a lot. Howard Dean lost all his momentum and chance of winning in 2004 with the yell not just because of the ‘Screamin’ Dean’ incident, but because superdelagtes jumped off the Dean wagon. That symbolised more that the yell. As people drop out of the race, the superdelegates will shift around. Expect to see anyone pledged for Bill Richardson to support Obama. That’s one of my predictions.
It’s important to explain something else here too. For a while I’ve said that Florida and Michigan won’t count for the Democrats. What won’t count? The states will still vote for their candidate, but their superdelegates and delegates won’t count at the convention. Thus, while winning those states would be good for the electability debate, the delegates won’t help the candidate. It’s a win-lose situation, but the states lose on the whole. Their delegates don’t count, their voting isn’t really important, and the candidates stop campaigning there.
And finally we get to the glaringly obvious question: How do the superdelegates decide who they will pledge? How do these people decide when they don’t have to follow any voters? They chose on their own. And how do they come to a conclusion? By whoever has won them over in D.C.. Yes, it becomes a wine-and-dine procedure for the superdelegates as the candidates try to win over as many superdelegates as they can. This might include future funding for projects should the candidate be elected president, cabinet and senior positions, or help with campaigning come the election. Whatever it is, there are promises made. And a lot of them.
For Clinton, I suspect that Bill might have called in a few favours or made a few promises as well. What with being a former president and all. Political favours, I guess, is what the whole process of woo-ing superdelegates is based around. And political maneuvering. You will see that the Illinois superdelegates have pledges Obama, while the New York superdelegates have pledge Clinton. No surprises there.
Those delegates unpledged are either morally superior or fence-sitters, in that they probably haven’t taken any ‘deals’ from the candidates. Some of them don’t need to (Gore, Carter, etc.) while others might actually take their role seriously, or think that the process is undemocratic (and will eventually follow their state’s vote).
So there you have it. What a superdelegate is, what they do, how they do it, and how to get one. I hope that this post answers all your questions about superdelegates. If there are any more, please comment this post and I’ll be happy to answer them. Thanks for the post idea.