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March 7, 2008

Dangerous Super Delegates

Roy Meachum

When the dust settled from Tuesday's primaries and the celebration speeches were done, Hillary Clinton's delegate count still trailed Barack Obama's, by 145.

Before this week's voting, the senator from Illinois tallied 1365 delegates; the former First Lady had 1268. Wednesday's news gave him 1592 against her 1447. That adds up to Mrs. Clinton's net loss of 48.

In other words, nothing changed. Pennsylvania and the other states ahead figure as more of the same.

Media-proclaimed victories have meaning only when popular vote delivers delegates. An early example, TV graphics post Nevada for Mrs. Clinton. Actually she came in short; he went up one delegate.

Based on the ballots alone, the senator from New York has no hope of winning the nomination. Standing between her and being sent home are the Super Delegates, a Democratic Electoral College, designed to step in when the people's choice does not match the establishment's wishes.

Created in 1982 in reaction to Jimmy Carter walking away with the White House six years earlier, Democratic leaders dallied until after Ronald Reagan sent Mr. Carter packing. They waited until he was safely back in Georgia before announcing the Super Delegates, the golden means to stop future Carters.

They put their 1984 stamp on ex-vice president Walter Mondale who managed to capture only Minnesota, his native state, and the District of Columbia. That was, however, against GOP icon Reagan.

Four years later George H. W. Bush, Reagan's vice president, politically mauled Michael Dukakis, another Super Delegates' approved candidate. The Massachusetts governor did slightly better than the gentleman from Minnesota: 10 states.

In 1992, Bill Clinton snagged the nomination of a party sick and tired of losing. The muckety-mucks didn't trust him. Only when he won re-election was he welcomed into the ranks of the good ol' boys, Democrat version. The former president's juice propelled his wife to run, and why she was considered by many, including herself, unbeatable.

Barack Obama's muscle surprised no one more than the Democratic establishment. After Super Tuesday's mixed bag, he reeled off 12 straight triumphs, counting his early capture of Vermont this week.

Every place the Illinois senator incited tremendous turn-outs, many a new record. He danced when the party's regular establishment was weak; that includes the South, which most observers credit to his color. I think not. It makes no never mind, as my Arkansas relatives say.

Along the way, Mr. Obama piled up the delegates to give himself the front-runner label, a designation guaranteed to bring negative media coverage. (I've done that myself, seeking to deflate political cocks-of-the-walk.)

Turning down but not stopping Senator Obama's momentum was fronted by Senator Clinton but underwritten by a party organization that wants nothing to do with both his popular appeal and the campaign theme of change.

In four years in the White House, he could, for example, considerably damage Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland's wily, powerful machine that had much to do with Mrs. Clinton's impressive numbers Tuesday in that state.

Barack Obama's fate should remind Marylanders of the ill-fated campaign run by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. At least in the result. Everybody in this state's hierarchy was frightened of Mrs. Townsend's capability to topple over their patronage machines. They preferred a Republican, even at the cost of four years' being out of the loop. They detested their choice when it took place.

Reports from Texas's open primary have Democrats voting against Hillary Clinton, by backing Sen. John McCain; they also say die-hard conservatives checked ballots for Mrs. Clinton, pronouncing later she would be easier to beat.

In any event, 795 Super Delegates hold the key for the Democratic Party's very future itself. At this writing Mrs. Clinton enjoys the support of 238. Her opponent lags behind with 194. The uncommitted 363 among their number have the potential of keeping the White House solidly Republican.

The Democrats' funereal dirge would be loud and clear with the Super Delegates banding together and handing the nomination to the New York senator, as she obviously considers she deserves. The only way that goes down easy is if, at the time, she has a greater number of elected delegates than her opponent.

As I understand, how the Super Delegates vote has sparked lively Democratic arguments, private and public. Mr. Mondale's equally wannabe vice president Geraldine Ferraro wrote a New York Times column last month stating they should not pay attention to voters.

As someone in on the process that created Super Delegates, she argued they have a responsibility to ignore balloting and select the candidate they felt best represented the party.

The politician from New Jersey promoted a subtext: the newcomer should be dumped in favor of his opponent, the former First Lady. Mrs. Ferraro labored in the crew that put the Garden State on Mrs. Clinton's side of the ledger. She couldn't be more an establishment figure.

For the Democratic "higher authority" to overturn the popular vote, spitting in the eyes of Senator Obama's faithful would at least prompt legal action. The Harvard-trained lawyer would have little choice. To do otherwise could easily be interpreted as a betrayal of those who trusted him.

Nothing could be more snobbish. Rejecting the people's choice reduces to totally nothing all the hundreds of thousands who went into voting booths, displayed Obama stickers or sought money and support; part of his attraction was his anti-establishment label.

In a worst case scenario, the Illinois senator's followers might stay home, surrender their rights in November's general election or vote for John McCain. Within his own party, the Republican nominee has been castigated for being too Democratic.

At least he's Democratic enough for me.

If my life-time party throws out the popular vote and nominates Hillary Rodham Clinton, I will exercise my right to support John McCain.

Whatever our political differences the former Naval person strikes me as a guy who's nice and honorable: adjectives I'm hard-pressed to apply to either Clinton.

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