Monday, May 05, 2008

Add-On Superdelegates Bad For Hillary

what are add-ons? extra people who are picked (each state has different rules) to vote at the democratic convention. read the story below to see how they're chosen and why hillary is at long odds of winning the nomination.

for example, chicago mayor richard daley endorsed obama in february, not as a superdelegate but just as a super guy. today, he's an add-on for obama. and apparently, obama has the advantage with add-ons.

this story below is kind of complex but if you can follow, you will see hillary's chances are slim. not only is it difficult for her to overcome obama's 150 or so delegate lead, winning supers will be as tough. what the media is going to be reporting after obama wins the nomination, is that it was over for hillary after super tuesday. visit demconwatch's add-on page to see who's supporting obama.

cjr: Yes, she’d still like to see Florida and Michigan seated to her advantage. But even in that unlikely event, she can’t close the gap with Obama without a big share of the 330 unannounced superdelegates.

So that 330 number looms large. Under an extremely optimistic (for Clinton supporters) scenario, once the last votes are tallied in Montana on June 3, Clinton could narrow her pledged delegate gap by about ninety. That would leave her still sixty total delegates behind; so of the 330 unpledged superdelegates, she’d need to take about 59 percent of them to gain just a single delegate lead, as many in the press have noted. And the poorer Clinton does in the remaining contests, the higher that minimum threshold rises.
But here’s the thing: the 330 figure is inflated. And it’s inflated in a way that makes the math look better for Clinton than it actually is.

Lumped in with the 330 superdelegates are seventy-six “unpledged add-on delegates.” These aren’t the party leaders and elected officials that we’ve come to associate with the word “superdelegate,” the governors, senators, state Democratic National Committee members, and other big wigs who get an automatic ticket to the Democratic convention in Denver.

“These slots usually were given to someone special—a state legislator, a union leader, a funder,” says Stephen Ohlemacher, The Associated Press’s chief delegate counter. “This is not something to that was made to pick a nominee. This is something that’s designed to let extra people go to the convention.”

It’s been a long time since a Democratic race was still up for grabs by the time add-ons were picked, so this class of delegates have never before had an effect on the nomination. But this year, it would be na├»ve to think that add-ons will be picked without consideration of their presidential preference.

While rules vary widely from place to place, add-ons are selected long after a state’s primary election or caucus night. Most states, though not all, will pick them with a vote on the floor of their state conventions; others will be picked by state party executive committees. In many cases, these bodies will be choosing from a list designated by their state chair, which could effectively allow the chair to dictate the selection.

So the question is, which candidate’s backers are likely to control the selection of more add-ons?

Party leader preference and rules vary enough state to state that it’s hard to say. In caucus states, the voters at the state convention will be county or congressional district delegates who wound their way up from precinct caucuses. That strongly favors Obama, since he dominated those contests. But primary states will likely be a wash.

Candidates might have an edge in states that they’ve carried. But these sorts of assumptions get complicated quickly. What, for example, might happen in a state like Massachusetts, which Clinton won? The state party chooses its two add-ons through its standing executive committee. And the commonwealth’s three most senior Democrats (Senators Kennedy and Kerry, and Governor Patrick) have endorsed Obama. Those three men presumably have a lot of weight on that body, as “FlyOnTheWall,” the wise commenter at TPM who first brought the add-ons to my attention, pointed out.

Relatedly, it’s worth looking at where the add-ons will come from. Every state, plus D.C. and Puerto Rico, get at least one add-on, but bigger states get two, three, or more—New York has four and California will send five. Yes, as we hear again and again, Clinton has won more big states. But the party’s feint at add-on proportionality, which at this point would seem to favor Clinton, is deceptive: Wyoming’s 8,753 caucusgoers will have as much add-on clout as one-fifth of California’s Democratic primary voters—about one million people. There are many Obama-won small states to weigh down Clinton’s big ones.

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Again, under the rosiest scenario, Clinton will still be way back in the pledged delegate count at the end of voting. If she needs to get 59 percent of the outstanding 330 to close that gap, winning anything less than around 59 percent of the add-ons only makes that work harder. She’ll have to compensate for the underperforming add-ons among the remaining 254 or so superdelegates. If she takes a healthy 60 percent of the add-ons (a 46-30 split), her magic percentage—the number of remaining unannounced superdelegates she’ll need to catch—will hold steady at about 59 percent. A 38-38 wash among the add-ons would hurt her; she’d then need 62 percent of the remaining superdelegates. If Obama gets 60 percent of the add ons, Clinton’s magic percentage without deus ex machina help from Florida and Michigan rises to 65%. These numbers, of course, look worse the further back Clinton is, delegate-wise, at the close of voting.