Dems’ suspense may be unnecessary
The torrent of speculation about the end game of the Democratic nomination contest is creating a false sense of suspense – and wasting a lot of time of the multitudes who are anxious to know how this contest is going to turn out.
Notwithstanding the plentiful commentary to the effect that the Pennsylvania primary must have shaken superdelegates planning to support Barack Obama, causing them to rethink their position, key Democrats on Capitol Hill are unbudged.
“I don’t think anyone’s shaken,” a leading House Democrat told me. The critical mass of Democratic congressmen that has been prepared to endorse Obama when the timing seemed right remains prepared to do so. Their reasons, ones they have held for months, have not changed – and by their very nature are unlikely to.
Essentially, they are three:
(a) Hillary Rodham Clinton is such a polarizing figure that everyone who ever considered voting Republican in November, and even many who never did, will go to the polls to vote against her, thus jeopardizing Democrats down the ticket – i.e., themselves, or, for party leaders, the sizeable majorities they hope to gain in the House and the Senate in November.
(b) To take the nomination away from Obama when he is leading in the elected delegate count would deeply alienate the black base of the Democratic Party, and, in the words of one leading Democrat, “The superdelegates are not going to switch their votes and jeopardize the future of the Democratic Party for generations.” Such a move, he said, would also disillusion the new, mostly young, voters who have entered into politics for the first time because of Obama, and lose the votes of independents who could make the critical difference in November.
(c) Because the black vote can make the decisive difference in numerous congressional districts, discarding Obama could cost the Democrats numerous seats.
One Democratic leader told me, “If we overrule the elected delegates there would be mayhem.” Hillary Rodham Clinton’s claim that she has, or will have, won the popular vote does not impress them – both because of her dubious math and because, as another key Democrat says firmly, “The rules are that it’s the delegates, period.” (These views are closely aligned with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s statement earlier this year that the superdelegates should not overrule the votes of the elected delegates.)
Furthermore, the congressional Democratic leaders don’t draw the same conclusion from Pennsylvania and also earlier contests that many observers think they do: that Obama’s candidacy is fatally flawed because he has as yet been largely unable to win the votes of working class whites. They point out something that has been largely overlooked in all the talk – the Ohio and Pennsylvania primaries were closed primaries, and, one key congressional Democrat says, “Yes, he doesn’t do really well with a big part of the Democratic base, but she doesn’t do well with independents, who will be critical to success in November.”
So, the fact that Mrs. Clinton has shown herself to be a remarkably resilient, tough campaigner, an attribute that the Clintons hope will carry much importance, this Democrat says, “is irrelevant.” This person added: “Many of the superdelegates are not going to be naïve enough to not realize the handwriting on the wall that this thing is going to Obama” – barring, he added, some major event like the Wright matter that he can’t seem to manage. They consider this unlikely. (There’s almost always a “something-might-happen” factor in elections.) As for the Wright matter, a key Democrat on Capitol Hill says, “Though it makes [his Democratic colleagues] a little nervous, it’s not enough to change their minds.” Moreover, the Wright matter may be old news come the general election.
At first, a large number of superdelegates planned to announce their support for Obama following Super Tuesday, but he didn’t do well enough to warrant that; then it was to be after Ohio and Texas; then after Pennsylvania; and some Democrats suggest that if Obama wins both Indiana and North Carolina a number of superdelegates will announce for him then. But the prevailing thinking is to allow the race to play out, avoiding a confrontation with Clinton and her backers, but also letting the pressure grow on her to justify continuing to fight a bloody but lost cause. This is, the thinking goes, the best and perhaps only way to get the thing wrapped up, as they so desperately want to do.
“We may have to go to June, and whoever ends up with the most delegates wins,” a key Democrat says. “Meanwhile, the attention will be on the battle she can’t win, so why is she doing this – from here on out she’s only bleeding the party. The right way to put it is, ‘This is a war of attrition and it’s obvious that the numbers aren’t going to add up, so what’s the point?’” He added, “The hope is that at some point the superdelegates will get frustrated and join the Obama bandwagon.”
This pressure may not be enough to get the tenacious Hillary Rodham Clinton to quit the race, but, says a leading Democrat, “Sometime in June we will make it clear to her that this thing isn’t going to the convention.”
Elizabeth Drew writes for The New York Review of Books. She is the author of numerous books, most recently “Richard M. Nixon” (Times Books, 2007)