Clyburn Pooh-Poohs the Power of the Superdelegates
By Paul Kane
Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) has joined an influential chorus on Capitol Hill that believes superdelegates will not play a decisive role in the nominating convention in August. This will be the case, Clyburn believes, so long as one of the two front-runners emerges from the regular voting process with a clearly defined lead, if not the outright magic number of delegates required to secure the nomination.
Clyburn told The Trail last week that it is "crazy" to think that a majority of superdelegates would side with a candidate who finished second and flip the nomination to that candidate.
"It's crazy to think that way, and it's crazy to act that way," Clyburn said Friday in a more than 30-minute interview about the nomination fight. "What our role is supposed to be is to extend the will of the people, not reverse it."
Clyburn's view is, for now, good news for the candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who has a lead in the number of pledged delegates he's collected over Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) heading into today's contests.
Clyburn has had his views on the presidential race more heavily scrutinized than just about any other member of Congress. This is because of his role as the most powerful Democrat in South Carolina, with its early voting spot last month, but also because as House majority whip he's the highest-ranking African American in Congress. Also, because Clyburn has remained neutral in the race, both Obama's and Clinton's campaigns have at times overinterpreted his comments to their benefit.
This occurred over the weekend, when Clinton's staff trumpeted Clyburn's comments to the Associated Press in South Carolina, in which the lawmaker said superdelegates should not be endorsing either candidate now and should instead let the voting process play out. He also encouraged the idea that superdelegates can freely vote their conscience regardless of how their constituents voted. "We're supposed to be unpledged delegates," Clyburn told reporters. "We are not supposed to be pledged."
But in the interview with The Trail, he more clearly spelled out a process for superdelegates. There are four voting categories in Clyburn's thinking: the number of states each candidate won, the number of overall votes won, the number of pledged delegates secured and momentum at the end of the voting process in June.
If one candidate or another has a clear lead in most or all of those categories, Clyburn said almost all superdelegates would rally behind that candidate and provide the requisite number of delegates for that candidate to win the nomination.
At this point, Obama leads Clinton in every category.
Two other senior House Democrats -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- have expressed similar positions on superdelegates.
"I don't think it was ever intended that superdelegates would overturn the verdict, the decision of the American people. What they are there to do is to be in place should there be a need for some change and what happens, but not to change what happened in the election," Pelosi told reporters Thursday.
"I do think it would be a huge mistake for the superdelegates to try and somehow overturn the judgment of the voters throughout the country," Van Hollen said in an interview with The Trail on C-SPAN Sunday.
Pelosi, Clyburn and Van Hollen all hold out the possibility of superdelegates flipping the nomination to a second-place finisher only if the front-runner were no longer capable of winning in November, a scenario Van Hollen described as "some kind of intervening event ... some kind of scandal erupted."
But the Pelosi-Clyburn-Van Hollen view is far from decisive for Obama, since there are enough states left in play for Clinton to catch a wave of momentum and move ahead of Obama in at least one of the Clyburn criteria categories.
If -- and only if -- Clinton is leading in one category and Obama is leading in other categories, then the nomination fight would become chaotic this summer, according to the House Democratic leaders.
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