Saturday, January 12, 2008

Delegate Count

Being first in primaries ultimately doesn't matter. What matters is how many delegates the candidates win.



    Clinton has locked in more than twice as many delegates as Obama, with 183 to his 78, according to a tracking tally kept by CNN. Romney has lined up 30 Republican delegates, with Huckabee close behind on 21 and McCain on 10. Despite the media fixation and voter attention that come from early wins in the presidential cycle, strategists in every camp are keeping one eye on the delegate count.

    How has Clinton already snagged six times as many delegates as the leading Republican? The answer is "super-delegates", a unique feature of the Democratic race that allows senior party members to commit in advance to a candidate without being bound by primary results.

    Super-delegates include all Democratic members of Congress, all Democratic governors, and all members of the Democratic national committee (DNC). Former presidents, vice presidents, DNC chairs and congressional leaders also are guaranteed ballots at the convention.

    The former first lady has dominated the super-delegate chase, racking up 78 endorsements on Capitol Hill alone to Obama's 35. But Obama has begun closing the gap in recent days, winning over Arizona governor Janet Napolitano today and three senior members of Congress yesterday.

    Leading in super-delegates is not always enough to keep a foundering candidacy alive. Former Vermont governor Howard Dean had the advantage in the early days of the 2004 election, yet he lost the nomination to John Kerry. (As DNC chairman, Dean is now a super-delegate himself.)

    The wide-open nature of the race on both sides gives even more weight to February 5 - also known as "Super Tuesday" or "Tsunami Tuesday" - when more than 1,000 delegates will be distributed. Even if a candidate claims victory before the convention, however, the potential remains for a public clash when Democrats choose a nominee in Denver and Republicans gather a week later in Minneapolis.

    Delegates from states that hold caucuses, such as Iowa and Nevada, technically are not bound to support their original candidate of choice. There are also a small percentage of delegates who head to the conventions un-pledged, waiting until the last minute to commit.

    Clashes between warring factions within a party can turn explosive inside the conventions. As protests against the Vietnam war raged on outside the 1968 Democratic gathering in Chicago, anti-war candidates tried to derail the nomination of then-vice president Hubert Humphrey. At the Republican convention in 1976, a less violent fight broke out between Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan for their party's nod.
      Delegates, super-delegates and the fight for the White House
      Elana Schor in Washington | Saturday January 12, 2008 | Guardian Unlimited (link)

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