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Poking Holes In The Superdelegate Superfrenzy

Yesterday, Jane lined out blogtopia* theories on superdelegates. The frenzy is fueled by a misunderstanding of how fickle pledged superdelegate support can be.  Read between the lines of public campaign statements as strategic posturing, and this becomes clear.

This needn’t have been stirred up.  It is counterproductive for much needed work at the Congressional and local races level — taking our eyes off the electoral ball, aided by media ginning up a pie fight because that sells papers and ratings. 

The Boston Globe printed quotes from Wolfson’s Clinton media call which intimated that the superdelegates were an important part of their convention strategy, and that he expected pledged delegates to vote for Hillary Clinton.   Hmmm…Clinton campaign maneuvers in a media posturing call.  The news here is?  Let’s read between the lines:

"We don’t make distinctions between delegates chosen by million of voters in a primary and those chosen between tens of thousands in caucuses,” Wolfson said. "And we don’t make distinctions when it comes to elected officials” who vote as superdelegates at the convention.

"We are interested in acquiring delegates, period,” he added.

As I said to several people yesterday, Wolfson — a smart operator — publicly posturing on superdelegates says that their support may be softening and they are trying to shore up pledges. 

A superdelegate vote is only as solid as the public opinion numbers of the moment.  A pledge is not enforceable.  Because most are elected officials, the public mood counts for how their votes are ultimately cast at the DNC in August, which is a long way off in terms of primary votes to come.

And in scoots AdNags, fanning the "Dems in disarry" discord within the party (as if he has any other objective ever).  It doesn’t help that Mark Penn decided to big foot his way into the conversation, managing to insult the hell out of people in the little states by intimating that they count for less.  To wit:

“I think for superdelegates, the quality of where the win comes from should matter in terms of making a judgment about who might be the best general election candidate,” said Mark Penn, Mrs. Clinton’s senior campaign adviser.

It may be what he thinks mathematically, but his tin eared rampant idiocy doesn’t win friends in smaller states.  And the Clinton campaign can ill-afford to offend when every delegate counts.  (They really need to muzzle him from speaking publicly.) 

Is the Clinton camp the only one working this superdelegate wooing strategery? No siree:

Sometime tonight, after the House and Senate finish voting, members of Congress who are backing Barack Obama’s presidential bid will huddle in the Capitol Hill living room of Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) to map strategy to capture more superdelegates for the Illinois senator.

Obama’s top congressional superdelegate wranglers will aim to be there: On the House side, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who is handling the Senate portfolio. Mike Robertson, Obama’s delegate and congressional relations coordinator, is also expected to be on hand. They will go over lists of possible recruits broken down by state, region and by particular interests….

Obama has a campaign-within-a-campaign targeting the superdelegates, with Matt Nugen, the national political director, and Jeff Berman, the national director of delegate operations and ballot access, keeping tabs as campaign chief David Plouffe oversees the process, parceling out who calls whom. Clinton’s superdelegate drive is being run by Harold Ickes, a longtime strategist for the Clintons who is known for his mastery of Democratic National Committee rules.

Bottom line: superdelegates are a key consideration — since the McGovern campaign left a bad taste in the mouths of the powerbrokers.  Both candidates have been working this all along because it is smart strategy.  Ask Ted Kennedy how it worked when he ran against Jimmy Carter…when his party stalwart support advantage evaporated in the months leading up to the DNC as Carter’s public polling numbers climbed.   To fail to work this would be stupid politics — and both candidates and their advisors are more than savvy.

All this public posturing and behind the scenes wooing?  Turns out my theory on Wolfson worrying about softening superdelegate support may have been on the mark.  Via NYTimes:

Representative John Lewis, an elder statesman from the civil rights era and one of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s most prominent black supporters, said Thursday night that he planned to cast his vote as a superdelegate for Senator Barack Obama in hopes of preventing a fight at the Democratic convention….

Mr. Lewis, who carries great influence among other members of Congress, disclosed his decision in an interview in which he said that as a superdelegate he could “never, ever do anything to reverse the action” of the voters of his district, who overwhelmingly supported Mr. Obama….

His comments came as fresh signs emerged that Mrs. Clinton’s support was beginning to erode from some other African-American lawmakers who also serve as superdelegates. Representative David Scott of Georgia, who was among the first to defect, said he, too, would not go against the will of voters in his district.

And so it will go so long as public opinion rushes toward Obama in primary wins and momentum.  If Clinton starts taking the delegate lead again, the delegate flipping will slow.  But Obama’s momentum is tangibly showing in superdelegate volatility, which both candidates are watching closely and publicly posturing on to gain advantage. 

Why go through this in such detail?  Because paranoia doesn’t help any of us and neither does invective.  Tensions are high because the primary fight is close.  And stupid-ass public statements like this one from an anonymous Obama supporter that the Politico gleefully uses to add to the "Dems in disarray" narrative do not help that:

One Obama superdelegate, a House member, had sharp criticism for the superdelegate racial and gender make-up, a reaction that reflects the sensitivities surrounding the issue.

“It’s still the old guard, the white men. They always want to control the outcome,” the superdelegate said. “But this time, they won’t be able to do it.”

That strong response could portend a messy intra-party fight in the event that superdelegates cast the decisive votes for the nominee.

Clearly Mark Penn hasn’t cornered the market on foot in mouth disease.  Is it any wonder I’ve had it with the squabbling from the primaries? How on earth is something like that said publicly to a reporter thought to be at all helpful for making certain we don’t get BushCo redux from John McCain for another 4 years?    

(Pink Floyd performing Comfortably Numb.  Fits my mood.  *And yes, Skippy coined that.)

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com