Posted: Feb. 12, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

There has been some super-wrangling about super-delegates, the Democrats who automatically have votes at the national nominating convention because of their offices.

A suspicion looms that one candidate -- say, Barack Obama -- could win the most votes and pledged delegates but lose at the convention this summer in Denver to another candidate -- say, Hillary Clinton -- because the super-delegates are free agents who could swing the nomination.

Jim Baker, the Democratic mayor of Wilmington, said as much. "They can steal this election if they want on Obama," he carped Saturday during a rally in the city for Chris Bullock, a Democratic congressional candidate.

This is a case of counting the chad before it is hung -- here in Delaware and also likely elsewhere.

The super-delegates are elected and party officials. They did not get where they are by ignoring the collective wishes of the electorate and especially not by repudiating their own political base.

These folks are the ones who mostly get accused of sticking their fingers to the wind, not in the eye of the voters.

"I can assure you the delegation going to Denver will accurately reflect the wishes of the Democrats in Delaware," said John Daniello, the Democratic state chair who is a super-delegate himself.

Obama won the state's presidential primary last Tuesday, when he outpolled Clinton 53 percent to 42 percent, with the remainder going to other candidates. There were 15 delegates at stake, nine allotted to Obama and six to Clinton.

The full Delaware delegation, however, has 23 members. The other eight slots are reserved for the state's seven super-delegates plus an unpledged delegate who will be chosen April 5 at a state convention in Dover.

The super-delegates are Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, U.S. Sen. Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, along with Daniello and Vice Chair Harriet Smith Windsor, who is also the secretary of state, National Committeeman Rhett Ruggerio and National Committeewoman Karen Valentine.

Minner, Ruggerio and Valentine endorsed Clinton before the primary. The others have not expressed a preference publicly, nor are any of them breaking that silence now. Biden has said he will back the consensus candidate.

The governor remains committed to Clinton. "You look at what happened. The votes were close. Obama did win the primary, but I have no trouble staying where I am. That's why the party made the rules," she said.

Ruggerio and Valentine still favor Clinton, but as members of the Democratic National Committee, they are party officials who recognize they are charged with doing whatever they have to do to keep the party united and elect a president.

"I'm a DNC member first and a Clinton supporter second. For me and other super-delegates, we want to do what's best for the party. The worst-case scenario locally and nationally would be for Obama to win the popular vote and the most delegates and not get the nomination based on the super-delegates. It would gut the party," Ruggerio said.

"Everybody should take a deep breath. The primaries are not over, and a lot can happen between now and August. Should it come to the automatic delegates, we have the right to exercise our independent judgment, but we have to do what's best for the party," Valentine said.

In essence, there is enough wiggle room in the delegation to get wherever it has to go. Politics at its lowest common denominator is all about figuring out what the voters want and then leading them there, and the super-delegates are the best politicians the Delaware Democrats have.

Even Baker, after grumbling that the nomination could be rigged, said in reflection that his words were more of a warning than a prediction.

"There is an undercurrent in this country of dissatisfaction with its institutions, whether it's the issue of Florida or the issue of super-delegates. It could happen. A lot of these people have already committed to Clinton, because at the time they didn't think anybody else could come close to winning. It's an ethical question," Baker said.

"If things change, the super-delegates should change."

If there is anything this election is about, it is change.