New Clinton Spin on Caucus Delegates

Chuck Todd wrote an interesting article on MSNBC today about how the Clinton campaign is now distinguishing between pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses.  Asked how she can win the nomination when she is so far behind in the delegates race, Clinton told Newsweek that there are three kinds of delegates — “elected delegates, caucus delegates, and superdelegates” — by which she clearly meant that “elected delegates” are those selected in primaries. Her phrasing conveys the impression that the caucus delegates were not really elected and somehow have less legitimacy than those won in primaries.  Here is her full answer to the question:

It doesn’t look bleak at all. I have a very close race with Senator Obama. There are elected delegates, caucus delegates and superdelegates, all for different reasons, and they’re all equal in their ability to cast their vote for whomever they choose. Even elected and caucus delegates are not required to stay with whomever they are pledged to. This is a very carefully constructed process that goes back years, and we’re going to follow the process.

Beyond implying that caucus delegates have less legitimacy than those picked in primaries, she also appears to be suggesting that she might try to persuade some of Obama’s pledged delegates to support her at the Democratic National Convention in August.  While that might conform to the rules, it would be highly distasteful and probably harm the Democratic Party.

Clinton obviously could have said “primary delegates, caucus delegates, and superdelegates”, but did not.  She also could have simply talked about “pledged delegates and superdelegates” as is usually done.  It is particularly interesting that she did make the distinction because it was not required to make her point that all the delegates are free to support anyone they want at the convention.  Her wording made Chuck Todd think that Clinton and her campaign staff have been formulating a new argument to discount the importance of the delegates Obama won in so many caucuses, the ones that have given him his big lead over her.  I suspect that her phrasing was a premature and accidental revelation of this new argument.

Todd pointed out that Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania, a Clinton supporter, argued that new caucuses in Florida and Michigan would be less democratic than new primaries.  In fairness, he was talking about Michigan and Pennsylvania and did not imply that delegates won in caucuses should count less than those won in primaries.  But his remarks could be further evidence of the caucus vs. primary argument that the Clinton campaign might be constructing.

Todd calculated that Obama has currently won more delegates than Clinton even just counting those selected in primaries: approximately 1,086-8 to 1,074-6.  But, that is a smaller lead than the one he holds counting all pledged delegates won so far.  This gap is small enough that Clinton could overtake him (in pledged primary delegates) if she wins Pennsylvania’s primary and possible new primaries in Michigan and Florida.  Fortunately for Obama and for the integrity of our democratic process, she can make any argument she wants but all the delegates Obama won in caucuses will still be seated and be able to vote for him.

All that being said, I actually do agree that primaries are more democratic than caucuses and would like to see all states use them in the future.  However, I do not believe it is fair to make a distinction at this point in time for the current election.  Obama won his caucus delegates fair and square and any attempt to discount them should be rejected by the superdelegates.


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