Unpledged Delegates (superdelegates)

This next session with Dr. Elaine Kamarck was all about the history, utility and viability of the superdelegates.  What’s especially interesting about her giving this session is that she was the research director back for the Winograd Commission in 1976 – so has a very long history with this topic (and is coming out with a book this next month on the topic)

This ABCNews article does a pretty good job of summarizing what came out of her session.

She harkened back to what Rhodes Cook had said that, for our first 150 years, our nominee was selected by superdelegates.  In 1972, there was a total revelation in the nominating process.  That said – it’s interesting to note that the McGovern-Frasier guidelines (developed after the Chicago debacle in 1968) didn’t call for more primaries.  However, the number of primaries went from 15 to almost 30 between 1968 and 1972 – giving McGovern a major advantage since he had written the rules and understood the importance of going out early to garner delegates.

How we do this is unique in the world.  Most democratic countries do it by party (ie Prime ministers)

In 1972 – several became caucus systems (it’s just easier)

Because people had to run for delegate, members of congress who had previously been delegates didn’t want to run against their constituents.  Thus – the number of elected officials dropped off at the conventions.

In 1980 – one of the bitterest conventions ever – spurred the Hunt commission.  This opened the door to superdelegates.  There was disstisfaction – led heavily by organized labor.  They looked at the last 10 years and saw that they gave us McGovern & Carter (who didn’t win a second term) and saw that it was bad news.  They didn’t see that it was a realligning era & a Republican resurgence.  They said they wanted party leadership back at the convention and on the floor.  The original proposal was for 30% to be supers, but they were concerned about diversity (most of the supers would be white men). SO – they settled on 14% and determined that those delegates would be elected by the house caucus. 

In 1984 – Mondale got a lead at this first caucus.  However, in every other election, supers have simply ratified the party results.  After 1984, the number of supers also continued to grow (to include all congresspeople, all governors, all DNC members).  The only major opposition raised was by Jesse Jackson. 

In 2008, it was the 1st race where it mattered – because the delegates were neck and neck.

Jeff Berman (Obama’s “delegate hunter”) really undertood the system the deepest and the Clinton folks didn’t.

Kamarck commented that she felt the supers should simply have positioned themselves to ratify the popular vote – and believes that this marked the end of the supers era.  Turning back the clock doesn’t work.  The deliberative role of the supers has been supplanted by public process. 

She also feels that this is at the root of caucuses and that they, too, are an elite system (note from Suzi – she obviously hasn’t been to a caucus in WA state :-)).  Therefore – anything that diminishes the public voice  becomes a problem.

In terms of regional primaries and state timing – the challenge is – who decides.  There are really 2 choices:

  1. you can hope that the respective parties, state legislatures, etc… all agree on a calendar.
  2. you can have congress mandate a bill – but there’s a big constitutional question about whether they have jurisdiction here.  plus – they’ve never shown an interest here.

she reminded us that conventions don’t deliberate -they ratify the results of the primary.  Last time the convention was deliberative was in 1980.  the convention is only deliberative if candidates take the fight to the floor.  the 1976 Ford v. Reagan race is worth looking at in terms of this situation. 

Q&A:

Q: Motivation of states for regional primaries?

A: None

Q: Deliberative nature was the basis for funding conventions by the FEC.  Does that persist?

A: yes. 

Kamarck want on to a slightly different topic – talking about the motivation for states to go first.  One big motivator is revenue.  States who get more attention make more money.  Thus – how do equalize the delegates & voters in later states to spread the calendar?  Bonus delegates?  a “sliding window” in which you allow winnter take all rules later in the process.  It emphasizes big prizes at the end.

Q: PLEO (party leader and elected official) – does that address the need for a designation for elected officials to make it to the convention?

A: not really. you could expand pleo ,but you still have the issue that those elected offiicals do not want to displace the mayors, councilpeople, etc… – and you also have that some folks won’t/shouldn’t state their preferences

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