Super delegates or super screwup?

First-term Rep. Carol Shea-Porter supports Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, even though her New Hampshire constituents voted for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“It came to a virtual draw in our state” in last month’s primary, she says of the mismatch in positions. “I think it’s a moot question.”

In her case, perhaps so. But Shea-Porter is not alone, and increasingly in the close Democratic race, the political intentions of delegates picked outside the primaries and caucuses are cause for controversy.

An Associated Press review of lawmakers and governors who are superdelegates to the Democratic National Convention turned up three dozen cases in which they hold positions contrary to the expressed will of their own constituents.

Based solely on the numbers, Obama is disadvantaged.

There are 21 governors and members of Congress who support Clinton although their states or districts voted for Obama in primaries or caucuses. Two are from the former first lady’s home state of New York.

There are 14 elected superdelegates for Obama in districts whose constituents went for Clinton, including the governor, both senators and one congressman from Massachusetts.

Obama would also benefit if uncommitted superdelegates followed the voters.

The AP review shows 33 elected officials who are superdelegates and publicly uncommitted in the presidential race, even though their constituents went for Obama. Another 24 are neutral despite their voters siding with Clinton.

For some, the difference can be a cause for concern.

“You’ve got to represent the wishes of your constituency,” Rep. David Scott of Georgia said recently, explaining why he was dropping his allegiance to Clinton after Obama gained 80 percent of the vote in his district.

For others, it plainly makes little difference. Massachusetts Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry have been aggressive supporters of Obama, both before and after Clinton won the primary in their states.

The uncommitted remain that way for a variety of reasons.

Rep. Tom Allen of Maine, running for the Senate, represents a district that Obama won in the state’s caucuses. Yet he is a longtime acquaintance of former President Clinton. He’s staying neutral in the presidential race, hoping to maximize his own support in the Senate campaign.

Others who are uncommitted say they want voters, not the party bosses, to pick the nominee.

“Let’s hope and pray that the enthusiasm that we see in these elections … someone will emerge as a winner and be out far enough that the superdelegates won’t matter,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said recently.

“I don’t think it was ever intended that superdelegates would overturn the verdict, the decision of the American people,” she added. Obama won her district, as he did the one held by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, also uncommitted. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, a member of the leadership whose congressional district sided with Obama, is neutral as well. He’s from Obama’s home state of Illinois, but worked in Bill Clinton’s White House.

Under Democratic Party rules, superdelegates are not picked in primaries or caucuses. Elected officials and party leaders, they are free to support the candidate of their choice.

Inevitably, that gives rise to a debate over their proper role that is part theoretical, part elementary politics.

“It raises the age old political question. Are we elected to monitor where our constituents are … or are we to use our best judgment to do what’s in the best interests of our constituents,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, a Clinton supporter even though Obama won his district.

Unlike Scott, who says his job is to represent his constituents, Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina says the job of a superdelegate is to exercise best judgment for the country as a whole.

“We ought to be doing the nation’s business when we go to the floor of the House to vote,” he said in a recent interview, adding that the situation is the same on the floor of the convention.

Still, in an enterprise as political as picking a presidential candidate, pressure is inevitable.

“If there is pressure, it would be coming from their constituents,” says Rep. Sanford Bishop of Georgia, co-chairman of Obama’s campaign in the state.

But the candidates and their campaigns are hardly above a little jockeying in public.

“My strong belief is that if we end up with the most states and the most pledged delegates, and the most voters in the country, then it would be problematic for political insiders to overturn the judgment of the voters,” Obama said recently.

Clinton, who has won fewer states than Obama, argued that superdelegates should make up their own minds.

“Superdelegates are by design supposed to exercise independent judgment,” she said. “If Senator Obama and his campaign continue to push this position, which is to the contrary of what the definition of superdelegates has historically been, I will look forward to receiving the support of Senator Kerry and Senator Kennedy.”


  1. keith

    Representative Carol Shea-Porter (from my district in NH) is absolutely correct.

    The New Hampshire primary vote between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama was a virtual draw. Mrs. Clinton won by less than 7500 votes out of some 284,000 cast in the Democratic primary there.

    What’s more, as she was one of 8 candidates still running at the time, this means that nearly 172,000 (or nearly 60 %) of New Hampshire Democrats voted for someone ELSE besides Mrs. Clinton.

    But probably, what’s even more telling is that both Mrs. Clinton AND Mr. Obama came away with exactly the same number of delegates…9…out of the New Hampshire Primary.

    Any way you cut it, that’s a tie…not a win.

  2. Sandra Price

    Last week, I stated that the Super Delegates were paid by the campaign. Immediately I lost my ability to post on CHB. It was a problem that was repaired yesterday and I will link the article here.

  3. Flapsaddle

    We have the best political system that money can buy, don’t we?

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  4. Cobaltkid

    Actually, based on the results from Shea-Porter’s dietrict, I believe Obama got the majority in her district. The cities of Manchester, Salem, and Nashua in Hodes’ district were where Hillary got enough votes to eke out a marginal victory. Basically a tie, as Keith states.

    As previously reported, Obama received support from voters registered as “Undeclared” who could vote for either R’s or D’s. Governor Lynch and the Shaheen machine are backing Hillary. Many observers, especially the pollsters and the pundits, didn’t realize the strengh of the Shaheen machine and the state’s demographics. This fact was conveniently overlooked by the so-called conspiracy theorists who became instant experts on New Hampshire politics.

    Anyway, it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next month or so. Will either candidate concede without a terrific fight, I don’t think so.

  5. txfarmer

    I am not comfortable with the idea of Superdelegates. I know that this was allowed by the Supreme Court decision in early 70’s that political parties are private and can make whatever rules they wish.
    It is bad enough that some are elected to another office, but for those who are merely appointed as Superdelegates, who has responsibility for their actions?
    Keith commented on 60% voting for someone other than Hillary. At least that was in the Primary.
    Here in Texas, things are so bad, that our current Governor was elected with only 34% of the total vote. Because there is no proviso that the winner must have an absolute majority, one third of the voter’s chose our Governor. Who then left the State to campaign for Rudy. And to try and position himself as Veep. And he was as effective campaigning for Rudy as he has been as Governor of Texas.
    I am against the Electoral College, I want the voter’s to have some semblance of actually deciding who is elected.
    Were it not for the Electoral College, Shrub would not have been allowed in the WH, other than as a visitor, regardless of FL and its chads and tossed ballots.
    One person, one vote, damn where one lives.

  6. Donnat

    Txfarmer, you are so right…dang, it’s good to hear common sense coming from Texas occassionally.