The outcome of the Democratic presidential primary in Pennsylvania, pitting Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama April 22, could sway undecided “super-delegates” now expected to decide who gets the party’s nod.
With the race as it stands, whoever wins in Pennsylvania and nine other primaries through June 3, neither Clinton nor Obama can lock in the 2,025 delegates needed to secure the Democratic nomination.
According to the independent site RealClearPolitics (RCP), Obama has 1,641 delegates compared to 1,503 for Clinton.
Among these delegates 1,415 are pledged to vote for Obama and 1,251 pleadged to vote for Clinton.
Obama has the support of 226 so-called super-delegates and Clinton 252. Those are out of a total of some 800 super-delegates to the party convention in Denver August 25-58; some are party bigwigs and many are elected offcials.
What makes their role unique is that the super-delegates are utterly free to vote their own minds.
The candidate who manages to convince them that she or he is the party’s best hope in the general election against presumptive Republican nominee John McCain is all but a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination.
“The superdelegates attempt to look at electability, and there is still a lot of water to go over the dam on that subject before most of them have to commit,” Phil Bredesen, the Tennessee governor and an undecided superdelegate, told The Wall Street Journal recently.
Delegates pledged to candidates in primaries are generally distributed proportionally. Unless one of the two wins by a wide margin in upcoming contests, observers expect the proportion of delegates in favor of each to remain similar to what it is now.
But in the event Clinton were to win in Pennsylvania, where she is the favorite, and then go on to win Indiana May 6, the snowballing momentum could start sending more undecided superdelegates under the Clinton tent.
“Superdelegates tend to blow with the wind,” said Jim Hollifield, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas.
The Obama camp says super-delegates ought to feel obliged to vote in line with the majority of party voters. Obama has won more states than Clinton and more votes then she.
But that argument does not hold water with the Clinton camp.
They say she has won the big states that carry disproportionate electoral weight, and some states that went Republican in 2004, but could go Democratic this year.
And they stress she has brought home wins in New York, California and New Jersey.
“If Senator Obama is not able to win Pennsylvania, it will again demonstrate that he has serious problems winning the large states,” stressed Howard Wolfson, a key Clinton adviser.