Democrats may take power from superdelegates

Then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton battled over the role of superdelegates in the presidential primaries.
Then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton battled over the role of superdelegates in the presidential primaries. (L.m. Otero/associated Press)
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By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 31, 2009

Eighteen months removed from a protracted presidential primary fight, a group of Democrats gathered by President Obama has recommended that the party effectively eliminate the influence of so-called superdelegates by redefining their voting power.

The Democratic Change Commission, which was convened last August to examine the nominating process, is recommending that superdelegates -- also known as unpledged delegates -- be required to vote along with the electoral majority of their state.

"We need to show deference to what the party members in our state have done," said Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, one of the co-chairmen of the commission.

The elimination of free-agent superdelegates comes after the party split during the 2008 primary over how they should vote. Then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) argued to unpledged delegates -- members of the Democratic National Committee, House members and senators, and former party leaders -- that it was not their responsibility to vote as their state had voted, but rather to back the candidate they thought would be the best person to represent the party.

Obama allies insisted this was an attempt to subvert the will of the people. Clinton loyalists shot back that the very role of superdelegates was to resolve a close race in which the will of the people was very closely divided.

Superdelegates were created in the early 1980s to give the establishment of the Democratic Party more say in choosing a presidential nominee, but until the 2008 contest, such delegates had never been a serious factor.

The Change Commission included several Obama loyalists, including Jeff Berman, who spearheaded the delegate operation for the campaign, and David Plouffe, who managed the then-Illinois senator's candidacy.

North Carolina state Sen. Dan Blue, a member of the commission, offered a dissenting voice in a conference call announcing the proposed changes. "There is no escape when something unforeseen occurs," Blue said of the potential consequences of eliminating unpledged delegates.

The commission's recommendations will now go before the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee.

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