If I Were a Superdelegate

Washington Matters

If I Were a Superdelegate

I dreamed last night that I was a superdelegate at a deadlocked

On the drive to work, I started wondering seriously what would sway me if I really were a Democratic superdelegate.


For starters, I ruled out anything illegal or unethical -- no bags of money, no offers of plum jobs, no dates with anyone named Kristen. Just the facts and the best case. That took some of the fun out of it, but raised some food for thought. I came up with four key questions that would help me decide:


1) Who has earned the nomination? This is an easy one to answer -- No one. Not yet, anyway. If Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are still standing in August and separated by only 100 or so pledged delegates, neither will have a clear mandate that a superdelegate has to respect. Clinton's argument that she won the primaries in the big states that Democrats will need in November is unconvincing. It implies that if Obama is the nominee, Democrats who voted for Clinton in Ohio and New Jersey and elsewhere would stay home or vote Republican, but all the polls suggest otherwise. Democrats like both candidates and most will support whoever gets the nomination. They even want them to share the ticket. Similarly, Obama's claim that his small lead in delegates must be respected by superdelegates is unpersuasive. If the race for pledged delegates is close, then they (we) should use their experience, judgment and unique perspective to decide.


2) Who has the best chance of winning? This is the most important question but also the hardest to answer. Clinton may be tough enough to withstand GOP attacks, but she's also incredibly polarizing. More than 40% say they won't vote for her no matter what. And even conservative Republicans leery of McCain despise her so much that they might turn out in droves. But even her enemies respect her intelligence and competence, and women will certainly turn out for her. Obama, on the other hand, has brought a whole new generation into the party and if he can sustain that, it would be a powerful force in November. But he hasn't yet proven his mettle -- both in the sense of being tough enough to withstand GOP attacks and in fleshing out his rhetoric with a detailed policy agenda that rivals Clinton's. If he does that by August, I'd give him the advantage, but if he can't, then this question goes to Hillary.


3) Who has the best chance of governing well? The next four years will be close to impossible for whoever wins in November. The next president faces impossible problems -- a war with no end in sight but one that will prove extremely hard to get out of, a resurging threat from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, an economy hopefully recovering but still limping, and a need to invest heavily in America's future just when entitlement spending makes it impossible to find the money.  Any president will need bipartisan cooperation, but will Republicans work with any Democrat? It's hard to imagine them cooperating with Clinton. And Obama is likely to get a rude awakening when he discovers that Washington doesn't work on hope alone. The only chance for real progress on big issues is a clear, unmistakable message from voters that they won't put up with partisan gridlock any more. That can only happen if Obama is at the head of the ticket and his coattails are long enough to significantly boost Democratic margins in Congress. Advantage Obama, slightly.


4) Who will help other Democratic candidates more? Advantage Obama on this one, too. If the new Democrats and independents who have rallied around him stay the course, it will mean a big day in November for all Democrats. Not that Clinton wouldn't help some by bringing out more female voters and other Democrats nostalgic for her husband's presidency. Plus both candidates have established strong national party operations. They both know how to get out the vote. Obama would be particularly helpful to Democrats in swing districts in red states that Clinton is writing off.


So who would I vote for if I were a superdelegate? Obama has a slight edge, if the convention were held today, but there are still a lot of factors in play. That's why I'm staying uncommitted. And looking forward to getting feted in Denver.