If superdelegates pick nominee, Democrats face backlash
The idea that party insiders would decide contest strikes many as 'undemocratic.'
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"As a superdelegate, I decided I had to speak up now to separate myself from the idea ... that superdelegates, especially those who have not announced their choice, could or should decide our nominee under some circumstances," she said in a statement Feb. 11.Skip to next paragraph
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After '72, the rise of superdelegates
The category of superdelegate was first proposed after Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern was routed in the 1972 general election. The idea was that by playing a role in the nominating conventions, party professionals would help ensure that the nominee was electable – and would be supported by the party establishment in the general election.
"One of the things we're seeing this year – more than at any time since 1984 – is that some of the superdelegates are making a judgment based not just on who will make the best candidate, but decide to go along with the majority view in their district or state," says Anthony Corrado, professor of government at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.
Not since the 1984 nominating race between Vice President Walter Mondale and Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado has a Democratic primary been so contested. Mr. Mondale mounted an intense campaign for superdelegate votes, which put him over the top at the convention.
Most superdelegates interviewed for this story say they never expected that their role could be crucial this year.
"The role is to reflect a combination of factors: One is certainly the sentiment ... of my constituents in Rhode Island.... You also have to step back and make a judgment about the qualities of candidates and also the ultimate objective, which is to win the White House," says Sen. Jack Reed (D) of Rhode Island. "Those factors all come into play. I don't think there's a simple on/off switch: You either do what the primary voters tell you to do or you totally divorce yourself from that," he adds. "The objective is to win in November, not just help conclude the primary season. You've also got to help bring the party together."
Other superdelegates say there's too much fear among voters that they could wind up "stealing the election."
"Superdelegates play an important role because it's such a close campaign, but they were created for precisely the situation we may be in: to break a dead tie," says Elaine Kamarck at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. A member of the Democratic National Committee, she is an at-large superdelegate and is pledged to Clinton. [Editor's note: The original version misspelled Ms. Kamarck's name.]
"They're not going to turn aside the will of the voters, unless there is some compelling reason to do that," she says. "Unless some scandal erupts or something strange happens, you can pretty much anticipate that the superdelegates will take into consideration the will of the voters."