Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Dampen Your Expectations

Marty Lederman

For the past couple of weeks I've been blogging about how, regardless of how many states Senators Clinton and Obama each "win" tonight, the Democratic primary system is not like the electoral college -- winner does not take all -- and therefore neither one of them is likely to emerge from today as a prohibitive favorite in terms of actually securing a majority of delegates. Over at Open Left, Chris Bowers has now run some numbers, and he calculates that the largest possible delegate spread between the two candidates after this evening is likely to be no more than 75 delegates, and that as of tomorrow morning both candidates will need to win over 1000 more delegates for a majority -- probably more than 1100 -- with only 1428 pledged delegates remaining to be chosen in primaries and caucuses. Thus, in order to win the nomination without the aid of "superdelegates," either candidate would need to win more than three-quarters of the remaining pledged delegates, something that is virtually inconceivable. (It's theoretically possible that the media, the public and the financial contributors would anoint one candidate the putative winner after today. It's an unlikely scenario, however -- perhaps possible only if something very big and unexpected happens, such as Clinton winning Georgia, or Obama winning California or New York. Even then, the delegate count will be so close -- and the likelihood of a single candidate winning three-quarters of the remaining delegates so unlikely -- that the "losing" candidate today will have a very strong claim for continuing to press his or her case up to the convention, with more than a remote chance of prevailing.)

Thus, if Bowers's calculations are correct (and I have no idea whether they are, but they probably aren't too far off), it then appears that the nomination will be decided by the superdelegates, who make up about one-fifth of the voting delegates at the convention. The interesting question, I think, is whether those superdelegates (mostly elected officials and DNC members) would possibly vote to give the nomination to the candidate who goes to Denver with fewer delegates than the other. Say, for instance, that Candidate A has 1900 pledged delegates and Candidate B has 1850. If the superdelegates voted for Candidate B, wouldn't the supporters of Candidate A, and the party as a whole, have good cause to cry bloody murder? Would the scenario be different if one candidate or the other had "won" the popular vote in considerably more states than the other, delegate-totals notwithstanding? (In which case, is it possible that tonight's popular vote, and statewide winners, might make a big difference, after all, because of what they could portend for the superdelegate vote in August?) What role, dare I ask, might Al Gore's endorsement play in all of this?

The plot thickens. (Of course, I reserve the right to take it all back if something unexpected happens this evening!)

[There is one thing we can be fairly certain of with respect to today's vote: We will have even more reason, above and beyond the huge miscalculations in New Hampshire and South Carolina, to treat polling results with great skepticism. The polls for today's elections are all over the map, and they can't possibly all be right. Perhaps we ought to think twice about the fact that such polling continues to set the baseline for the all-important "expectations" that all-too-often govern the fate of modern candidates.]


You Dem voters across the nation who are excited about voting for "change" in the person of Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama might as well stay home because your votes will not count. The dirty secret is that the Dem nominating process is not really all that democratic.

4049 delegates attend the Dem convention to choose a presidential nominee. 796 or 20% of these are unelected "super delegates" made up of party bosses. Consequently, unless either Mr. Obama or Mrs. Clinton win 797 more delegates than the other in the primaries, the Dem party boss super delegates are going to pick the nominee in a brokered convention.

The Dems have made it impossible for any close contest not to be decided by the super delegates by having all of their states award delegates proportionately. In contrast, McCain will most likely establish himself as the prohibitive delegate leader today when he takes a series of winner take all state primaries.

Marty does raise a very interesting question whether the super delegates would choose the candidate who narrowly came in second place in the elected delegate count. If the contested 76 GOP convention is any clue, I would not rely upon popularity among the voters to decide a brokered convention. The GOP party bosses made damn sure that the more popular Reagan did not get the needed floor delegates in 1976. I can easily see the Clinton machine doing the same thing to Obama in a contested 2008 convention.

Say, for instance, that Candidate A has 1900 pledged delegates and Candidate B has 1850.

First, at this point I don't think it would be all that unexpected if Obama won California. That result is much less unlikely than Obama winning New York or Clinton winning Georgia.

Second, if Obama does win California or otherwise does quite well today, the situation going into the convention could be much messier than even your "for instance." The super-delegates may be faced not just with a choice between candidates separated by only a small number of pledged delegates, but also with the candidate with slightly fewer undisputed pledged delegates (Clinton in my "for instance") also claiming to have more delegates if the party reverses itself late in the game and recognizes the "primary" results from Michigan and Florida.

Faced with that scenario, I would expect the Clintons to wage the biggest, ugliest political fight since Florida 2000.


Better your party than mine. I went through this in 1976 supporting Reagan and it is infuriating to be on the wrong side of a brokered convention. It was clear from the thunderous applause to the Reagan concession speech at the end of the convention who the delegates wanted to nominate, but the party bosses had control of the floor.

When the primaries started, I thought Clinton would have her nomination secured today and the GOP would be headed to another brokered convention. However. McCain appears to be taking over and Obama is making the Dem race a dogfight. Strange how things work out.

Strange how things work out.

Actually, you being wrong isn't strange at all.

You Dem voters across the nation who are excited about voting for "change" in the person of Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama might as well stay home because your votes will not count. The dirty secret is that the Dem nominating process is not really all that democratic.

And just why should we take 'advice' from a shrill RNC partisan hack (who exhibits a rather cavalier attitude towards democracy even here)?!?!?

How about giving a hearty GFY to our little stoopid troll here: Go and vote. You'll feel better in more ways than one.


Regarding Prof. Lederman's question as to whether the superdelegates could possibly vote for the candidate with fewer elected delegates, my recollection is that the superdelegate system was invented precisely to let wiser heads override the passions of the mob (more politically correct phraseology: a temporary popular enthusiasm, or some such). So I don't see why it would be wrong, or politically infeasible, for the superdelegates to vote for the candidate who had fewer delegates. Anyway, the process is so complicated that the candidate with fewer delegates would always be able to come up with reasons why he or she was "really" the more popular candidate, e.g., he or she had actually won more votes (because some states have caucuses and some have primaries), or he or she had won the last few primaries, or he or she was leading in national polls.


I would never dream of telling anyone not to vote. I will be caucusing tonight and you all should vote your consciences as well.

My only point was that Dem votes will almost certainly be meaningless because your party bosses will be picking your nominee.

Tell me I am wrong. Even the Dem bloggers are waking up to this reality.

The "BartTronic"™, Release 1.1.0:

You Dem voters across the nation who are excited about voting for "change" in the person of Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama might as well stay home because your votes will not count.

Updated "BartTronic"™ Release 2.0.1:

I would never dream of telling anyone not to vote.

"Who will rid me of this meddlesome troll?"


With the usual caveats about exit polling, I thought you might be interested that Drudge is leaking the results of Dem exit polls across the nation and Obama is doing very well:


OBAMA: Alabama: Obama 60, Clinton 37... Arizona: Obama 51, Clinton 45... Connecticut: Obama 53, Clinton 45... Delaware: Obama 56, Clinton 42... Georgia: Obama 75, Clinton 26... Illinois: Obama 70, Clinton 30... Massachusetts: Obama 50, Clinton 48... Missouri: Obama 50, Clinton 46... New Jersey: Obama 53, Clinton 47...

CLINTON: Arkansas: Clinton 72, Obama 26... California: Clinton 50, Obama 47... New York: Clinton 56, Obama 43... Oklahoma: Clinton 61, Obama 31... Tennessee: Clinton 52, Obama 41...

Of course, Obama was leading in the exit polling in NH as well...

NOTE: I posted the actual results from Drudge's site because he has been known to take things down in reaction to angry noises directed his way from the news organizations he "borrows" from.

I thought you might be interested....

You thought wrong. We, unlike some folks here, have little difficulty doing our own research and checking our own sources.


Obama's at a serious disadvantage in terms of winning the popular vote. He's won a ton of caucus states-- in fact, every single caucus so far except American Samoa has plunked for Obama. That's at least eight Obama states that won't be included in aggregate popular vote totals. Given that the totals are so very close, that could be an issue.

(Some will argue that Hillary won Nevada based on exit polling, but they don't release the actual popular vote totals and he did win the delegate count).

Obama will also have a hard time arguing against the illegitimacy of the superdelegate process if he's simultaneously arguing to keep out Michigan and Florida.

I fear Hillary's machine throws this her way if it's still close in a month.

"superdelegate system was invented precisely to let wiser heads override the passions of the mob"

Oh how fascist! So was Leninism, national socialism, the English monarchy, and depending on how cynically you read Federalist 10, Madisonian democracy. If you don't trust the mob why do you live in a media controlled pseudo-democracy? Oh wait... answered my own question.

Obama is a populist candidate, as demonstrated by his ability to win in all sorts of states and in all caucus states, where people actually talk amongst themselves about what is right and good for them.

If Obama's populist support gets overruled by cigar smoking back room superdelegates, then the same thing that happened last time will repeat. All the red-states will go back over to McCain and its 4 more years.

For all this talk of "wiser heads," the democratic party looks pretty collectively stupid to me. Obama is showing us how to get the south and midwest back, you aren't paying attention.

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