Adam Mansbach 2008

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The Superdelegate Factor  

There is the potential for the Democratic Party to be utterly destroyed this August at its National Convention in Denver, Colorado.  Here is what would have to happen:

1. Neither Senator Clinton nor Senator Barack Obama wins the 2,025 delegates required to secure the presidential nomination.  This is increasingly likely, especially since even commanding wins can leave a state's delegates closely split -- which is why Obama has not yet been able to pull away, despite eight consecutive victories. 

2. Though short of the magic number, Obama rolls into the Convention with a lead.  This, too, seems increasingly likely.  Not only is the Illinois senator undefeated since Super Tuesday, but his wins have been lopsided all along; of the nineteen caucuses and primaries Obama has won, eleven of those victories have been with more than sixty percent of the vote.  Of Clinton's ten victories, only one was by more than sixty percent -- in her husband's home state of Arkansas, where she began her career as a First Lady.  Clinton is now referring to Ohio and Texas as 'firewalls' -- and though her campaign's previous attempts to claim underdog status have been spurious, she is no longer simply  crying wolf.  Obama wins in head-to-head polls against Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee; Clinton loses.  Obama landed two coveted union endorsements today, with a total combined (and largely Latino) membership of 3.1 million, and he also secured the support of longtime Clinton backer and Civil Rights veteran Representative John Lewis.  And although Clinton spent the week reveling in a windfall of donations that helped her campaign out of a financial hole, Obama continues to outearn her by a two-to-one margin. 

3. The nomination is left in the hands of the superdelegates -- senators, representatives, governors, and other party bigwigs who can cast their votes for whichever candidate they choose.  Trailing but undaunted, the Clintons -- so ruthless, desperate, smart and unscrupulous that at this very moment they are lobbying for the delegates from Florida and Michigan to be seated, despite the fact that the party stripped those states as a penalty for moving up their primaries, and the fact that only Clinton's name was on their ballots -- exert the kind of backroom pressure at which they are so good.  Consider the number of superdelegates -- i.e., establishment Democrats -- who have amassed political debts to the Clintons over the last twenty years. 

Now think about what happens if those people swing the nomination in Clinton's favor, and the will of the voters is ignored.  The party would be ripped apart, subsumed in a storm of outrage and cynicism.  Fast forward six months: My goodness, you're looking quite fit for an ill-tempered seventy-two year old, President McCain.   

Luckily, this probably isn't going to happen.  Not because the superdelegates are above being swayed by coercive brokering, but because they're savvy politicos primarily concerned with their own futures.  They will back Obama for the same reason ex-candidate Mitt Romney endorsed his bitter rival John McCain today: because lining up behind a winner makes sense. (Some of the superdelegates might also relish the chance to step out from under the Clintons' thumb, but that's another story). 

It will not be noble impulses that give Obama the win if it comes down to momentum versus influence, mandate versus juice, superdelegates versus voters.  But when the deciders -- to use George Bush's famous nonword -- are an ambitious, largely-elected squad of poll-readers and fair-weather friends, the will of the people is bound to be filtered through more personal concerns.  Let's just hope the two match up, or we'd better consider resurrecting the Bull Moose Party.

Adam Mansbach is the author of Angry Black White Boy (Crown) a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2005, and The End of the Jews, forthcoming from Spiegel & Grau/Doubleday in March.


Adam Mansbach  books  events  bio  music  interviews  other writing