06 February 2008

An argument against the "super delegate"

If you thought following the results of 24 races, involving two different parties and five major candidates on three or four TV networks was confusing last night, try figuring out this whole delegate thing.

I've spent the better part of the afternoon trying to determine who's leading who on the Democratic side.

I stayed away from the spin by the candidates and their surrogates and tried looking at the delegate numbers. Problem is, everyone's got different numbers and they keep changing every couple of moments.

So I took a snapshot of time at about 3:30 this afternoon and looked at the delegate totals on five different Web sites that seemed the least complicated and the most up to date.

These numbers include all races held to this point and not just Tsunami Tuesday numbers.

(Keep in mind that these numbers are being constantly updated so the numbers you click on won't be the same as those below).

The five sites are:

CBS News
Real Clear Politics
The Washington Post
Yahoo News

Among committed delegates (excluding the so-called super delegates) Barack Obama had an average of 686 to Hillary Clinton's 683. (The Washington Post charts didn't break out uncommitted delegates separately and so was not included in this average).

When the super delegates are added in Clinton leads Obama with an average of 891 to 811. (The Yahoo News site didn't have an estimate of super delegates and was not included in this average).

The Washington Post site was the only site to break out the numbers separately for last night without having to do all the math yourself (a dangerous prospect for me).

According to Post, Clinton picked up 714 delegates last night to Obama's 693. But you have to keep in mind these numbers are not final, and only one news organization's estimate.

NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd and his team did a lot of number crunching to project what the numbers will look like when every last delegate from Tsunami Tuesday is awarded.

It looks like Obama, by the narrowest of margins, won last night’s delegate hunt. By our estimates, he picked up 840 to 849 delegates versus 829-838 for Clinton; the Obama camp projects winning by nine delegates (845-836).

While it may be next to impossible to get this all down to the last delegate, one thing seems certain.

Barack Obama leads - if only slightly - in the count of delegates that have been awarded so far based directly on votes cast by Democrats in the states that have already gone to the polls.

Clinton's overall delegate lead is entirely the result of her advantage among super delegates, which are primarily members of Congress, governors, state party leaders and other politicos entrenched in the party machinery.

The Republicans have no such concept. While the Republican National Committee has a tiny number of delegates under it's control, John McCain's lead is based on votes cast, period.

As of a short time ago, and based on an average of the five Web sites mentioned above, McCain has 671 delegates, compared with Mitt Romney's 242 and Mike Huckabee's 180.

I'm not sure how you feel, but I have to say the super delegate concept seems like a bad idea to me.

For many years until the 2004 election, voter apathy kept turnout down.

Most Americans just aren't that wild about politicians and bout the way politics has been played over the last many years.

In the past couple of cycles voters turned out in record numbers, primarily because of the polarized nature of the country at this point in history and the feeling that "we" just have to win because "we hate the other side so much."

The Democratic Party's nominating race this year may be the first in a long time to be decided in large part by these so-called super delegates.

What message will it send to an energized throng of voters if their candidate loses because a small group of politicians decided it should be that way?

And what kind of energy will that take out of the party come November?

You can't change the rules in the middle of the game (though the Clinton team has tried to do so in Michigan and Florida), but for next time around, the Democrats should scrap the super delegate model.

EDITOR'S NOTE: With the number of candidates in the race thinned to five, we've scrapped the presidential preference polls for each party and substituted them with a "newsy" question involving an issue in each party. Please check out the polls on the panel to the right and vote!

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