In a campaign season rife with various numbers of some significance to the race, why not make room for one more. We've had 2025 and 1191 for the number of delegates necessary to win the Democratic and Republican nominations respectively. For a while there during the post-Super Tuesday Obama streak, 100 delegates was the margin under which Hillary Clinton had to get to make an argument to superdelegates. As the reality of not being able to get the delegate count under that number though, the focus of the Clinton team has shifted. And with it, the decision making calculus of the superdelegates has changed as well.
In an earlier set of posts (here and here), I laid out the parts of that process in terms of knowns and unknowns. What we know is the electablility factor and the number of contests won. The number of contests is easy enough. Obama has already won over half the states. Of course the Clinton camp is focusing on what types of states those are (red) and contending that they won't be won by a Democrat anyway. On the electability scorecard, both Clinton and Obama seem electable enough, but the more the rancorous tone of March continues, the less able the two candidates and the Democratic party will be to bridge the divide and heal the wounds in a timely enough manner for the general election.
The superdelegates who remain undecided know that though, and that was added to the decision making calculus (ver. 2.0). They feel the pressure to wrap the nomination up, but also feel the countervailing force to not choose incorrectly. That pressure figures into the unknowns of upward ambition and a superdelegate's relationship with or personal feelings for each of the candidates vying for the nomination.
With the remaining contests looking to be split fairly evenly between Obama and Clinton and with Clinton, as a result, being unable to cut significantly into Obama's delegate lead, the superdelegates are once again viewed as decisive. A post this morning by Jim Geraghty on the National Review Online hints at one remaining consideration for the undecided superdelegates to factor into their decision: taking cues from the remaining big time superdelegates.
The new magic number then, is ten. These ten superdelegates are the ones who hold enough clout within the party to tip the scale in one direction or the other as the contest phase of the nomination season draws to a close.
1. Al Gore
2. Jimmy Carter
3. Nancy Pelosi
4. Harry Reid
5. Joe Biden
6. Steny Hoyer
7. Jim Clyburn
8. Jim Webb
9. Red State House Dems up for re-election
10. Donna Brazile
With the exception of red state Democrats (a group likely to remain undecided until everyone else has weighed in--Why choose when you can use the "The party chose them" excuse with constituents?), this list makes sense. If a majority of these folks opts for one candidate over the other then either Obama is looking good or the Democratic party is likely headed for a messy convention pitting party elites against the rank-and-file membership. Given Jimmy Carter's 1980 experience, you'd think he'd weigh in to attempt to avoid a repeat of the post-convention chasm between Carter and Kennedy factions that year. None of these ten (nor the rest of the superdelegates) wants to be on the wrong side though. And that means most will wait for the chips to fall before making a decision. In other words, maybe this superdelegate convention, Tennessee governor, Phil Bresden is pushing has some validity to it.
[For a long discussion of each of these decision making factors see the earlier posts linked above.]