Eugene Weekly : News : 2.14.08

Super Special People
Analysis: superdelegates

Superdelegates have been in the news a lot lately, but there may still be confusion as to what makes them so special, aside from their name. While not technically superheroes, nor possessing of superpowers, they nevertheless certainly have power in closely fought elections. Should the race for the Democratic ticket come down to the wire at the August convention in Denver, superdelegates will essentially pick the nominee. (Republicans do not officially use superdelegates to pick their candidate.)

Superdelegate Earl Blumenauer has endorsed Barack Obama

In Oregon, there are 12 superdelegates, only three of whom have made an endorsement thus far. Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Rep. Darlene Hooley have committed to Hilary Clinton while Rep. Earl Blumenauer supports Barack Obama. Reps. Peter DeFazio, David Wu and Ron Wyden, along with Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, are all free to make their endorsements at any time, while the remaining five Oregon Democratic Party officials have vowed to wait until Oregon’s primary vote on May 20. For now, they are open game.

Superdelegates are unpledged, meaning they do not represent anyone other than themselves. They can support any candidate at any time, giving them some wiggle room. Though Michael Tanner, political analyst with the Cato Institute, told the Associated Press that the “chances of [unpledged delegates] changing their mind at the last minute is not likely.” Nor will superdelegates really have much sway if either Clinton or Obama concedes in order to unite the party — reportedly the reason Mitt Romney suspended his campaign on Feb. 7.

Dems instituted the superdelegate rule after the loss of Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan in 1980 to keep candidates who were too radical (or unelectable) from the nomination. In the 1984 primary, this rule was the deciding factor in breaking the dead tie between Gary Hart and Walter Mondale, with Mondale winning support from nearly every superdelegate. Currently Clinton has about 90 more unpledged delegates than Obama.

But how do you become a superdelegate? Well, you’re automatically one if you’re currently a Democratic member of Congress, governor, member of the Democratic National Committee, former president, vice president, leader of the U.S. Senate, speaker of the House, minority leader or you were once a chair of the Democratic National Committee. Toss in a few random elected officials (if you have enough political clout) and that’s quite a list.

With 796 superdelegates expected at the 2008 Democratic Convention (minus Sen. Joe Lieberman, who forfeited his superdelegate status after endorsing John McCain for president), the balance is 20 percent superdelegates to 80 percent pledged delegates. A curious calculation is being quoted on political blogs such as Daily Kos to express discontent with the “undemocratic” process of superdelegates: 0.000007 percent of the voting population has 19.6 percent voting power in this year’s Democratic Primary.

Democratic Party of Oregon committeewoman Jenny Greenleaf told the political blog Democratic Convention Watch that while “campaigns do call [Oregon superdelegates] with requests for endorsement, nobody has tried to twist my arm or offer me an ambassadorship to New Zealand,” though she noted that the Clinton campaign has contacted her the most.

According to party rules, superdelegates who endorse a candidate who drops out may change their vote. John Edwards has 27 superdelegate endorsements that may go to either Clinton or Obama while Dennis Kucinich has two endorsements, one of which is from him.   


Oregon Democratic Superdelegates

Frank Dixon

Wayne Kinney

Jenny Greenleaf

Gail Rasmussen

Meredith Woods-Smith

Bill Bradbury

Earl Blumenauer *

Peter DeFazio   

Darlene Hooley #

Ted Kulongoski #

David Wu

Ron Wyden

* – endorses Obama

# – endorses Clinton