As campaign observers certainly know by now, Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s campaigns are, and have been, in the process of wooing superdelegates. It obviously makes sense — these party insiders will likely be in a position to ultimately choose the Democratic Party’s nominees.
But targeting pledged delegates is something else entirely. These delegates were chosen through primaries and caucuses, and voters have reasonable expectations that they will do what they were chosen to do.
The notion that the Clinton campaign might try to peel off Obama’s pledged delegates first came up as a rumor a few weeks ago. Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer responded to the talk with a rather unambiguous denial: “We have not, are not and will not pursue the pledged delegates of Barack Obama."
So, everyone’s in agreement? Nothing to see here? No such luck.
A few days ago, Ben Smith reported that during a conference call with reporters, top Clinton aide Harold Ickes noted that pledged delegates aren’t formally bound to vote for the candidate they’re elected to support. “That binding rule was knocked out in 1980,” he said. Ickes didn’t actually say the Clinton campaign would start pursuing pledged delegates, but the fact that he would highlight the rule raised eyebrows.
Hillary Clinton personally sparked new speculation about this in an interview with Newsweek. Asked how she could still win the nomination given Obama’s delegate lead, Clinton said:
“[The math] 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.”
Those last 16 words have stirred quite a bit of controversy in Democratic circles over the last 24 hours.
t’s worth noting, of course, before Obama supporters completely freak out, that this would be hardball, but it’s not literally cheating. Ickes and Clinton are right — pledged delegates are not, in fact, required to stick with their candidate at the convention. The point, though, is that it feeds the perception of “stealing” votes — voters participated in primaries and caucuses, chose delegates to represent their preference, and now one campaign might try to undo the primary and caucus results by targeting pledged delegates.
If this is the strategy, Clinton is, in effect, saying she wants the delegates from the states she won and the delegates from the states she lost. (If you’re a Clinton backer, you might like this fighting spirit. If not, it seems like a controversial way of undermining the party.)
It’s possible, if not likely, that Clinton’s off-hand remark to Newsweek was not intended to be a hint about a grand campaign strategy. For that matter, it’s equally possible that the Clinton campaign is simply trying to create more uncertainty about the process (in other words, “Note to superdelegates: don’t commit now; anything can still happen”) and won’t follow through.
I guess we’ll find out soon enough.