Monday, June 29, 2009

Should Superdelegates Stay, Or Go?

Democratic leaders and "grassroots activists" (shout out to Roseanne from MN) have begun a series of meetings to determine whether, and if so how, to reform the delegate selection process for nominating a presidential candidate.

A prime reason for these meetings is to re-examine the role of so-called "superdelegates" in the nominating process. Team Obama, of course, was worried throughout much of 2008 that superdelegates--Democratic party insiders who are uncommitted and free to vote for whomever they choose, regardless of how their state's voters came out--would tilt the field in favor of Hillary, "stealing" the election despite Obama's wins.

Obama has little to worry about now since he IS the quintessential Democratic insider and party officials presumably will support him in 2012 absent some horrendous misstep.

Nonetheless, many Obamites are uncomfortable with the current structure and want it changed.

So, should the Dems eliminate superdelegates, or at least modify the structure? To begin with, party officials will always be able to attend the convention and vote. Before the superdelegate structure was put in place, many of the regular delegates were party officials, who are good at getting themselves nominated as delegates. So don't worry that they somehow will miss the party.

Instead, the question is whether they should be allowed to uncommitted, or should instead be allocated to candidates like other delegates.

The theory behind superdelegates was that they can prevent the party from making some terrible mistake--something like nominating a Georgia peanut farmer for President. Superdelegates are supposed to bring their superior political skills to the table to prevent disaster.

It hasn't worked out that way, however. Before we had superdelegates, the party nominated Jimmy Carter for President. That was no mistake--he won. The mistake was in how he governed thereafter, which superdelegates have little control over.

After Carter, in the superdelegate era, we got the likes of Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry--party liberals who did poorly with independent voters. The problem with superdelegates is that they are super-Democrats, whereas the general populace may not be all that wild about super-Democrats.

Democrats win the presidency when they select candidates with broad appeal to independents. They get those candidates by opening up the nomination process to independents--in states with open primaries this last cycle, Obama did quite well.

We'd like to see the party eliminate, or vastly scale back, the superdelegates. As we said, those folks will still go to the conventions, but they ought to be bound by the will of the voters and caucus attendees.

The party needs to look at other issues as well. It makes a difference--in terms of which candidate has the edge--whether a state nominating contest is by closed primary (favors insiders), caucus (favors insiders more) or open primary (helps outsiders). There needs to be some balance there.

Another issue is proportional assignment of delegates. In the Democratic primaries and caucuses, delegates are assigned pretty closely based on the proportion of votes they get. A candidate may get trounced in a state, losing 60-40 (that's a trouncing in electoral politics) and still come out with nearly 40% of the delegates. On the Republican side, the winner in a state sometime gets ALL the delegates, and usually gets most.

We think the Dems should be less proportional, but avoid the "winner-take-all" approach. One way to do this is to have about 70% of the delegates be assigned proportionally, but allow the winner of a state to take the other 30% (the percentages could be changed, but the overall state winner should get a delegate "bonus").

It will be an interesting to see what the party comes up with.

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