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The NY Times had a fascinating piece on Thursday about how the Clinton campaign lost the superdelegate primary:
By mid-March, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign knew it had a problem with what it had once assumed was a reliable firewall — its support among superdelegates.I think Fowler's point is the key one. If Clinton had been able to cut the pledged delegate lead to double digits (and I think it would have had to be done without Florida and Michigan), they could have really made a case that the pledged delegate numbers were essentially a tie, and their arguments about popular votes, electability, or whatever else would have had a much more receptive audience among the superdelegates. But they could never get it back under 100. As has been written elsewhere, the decisions not to contest the post super-Tuesday contests put them in a hole they could never climb out of.
The commanding lead she had held in superdelegates at the start of the contests — she was about 100 ahead of Mr. Obama — had dwindled by mid-March, to 12. And superdelegates were showing an independence that the Clinton campaign had not counted on, not quite buying her argument that she was more electable than Mr. Obama. The break in Mrs. Clinton’s supposed firewall turned out to be one of the most important factors in her campaign.
Of all the assumptions the Clinton campaign made going into the race, its support among the party establishment seemed like a safe bet. Many of the superdelegates, who help pick the nominee at the convention in August, came of age during the Bill Clinton presidency. Many were personal Clinton loyalists, cultivated to help deliver the vote.
But the Obama campaign convinced many superdelegates that they should follow the voters’ will in making their endorsements. To the puzzlement and increasing frustration of the Clinton camp, few flowed her way. Her campaign never recovered from its string of losses through February. By the time she started winning again, with Ohio on March 4, her support among superdelegates hardly inched up. At the same time, Mr. Obama posted a small but steady increase, culminating in a flood that surged on Tuesday and helped him claim the nomination.
In retrospect, relying on superdelegates as a firewall was flawed, said superdelegates who endorsed Mr. Obama. Representative David E. Price, a superdelegate from North Carolina, said the idea that Mrs. Clinton could amass enough superdelegates to overturn the verdict of pledged delegates “was never in the cards.”
Don Fowler, a former party chairman and a superdelegate who had supported Mrs. Clinton, said as much in a memo to the campaign on March 11 predicting that at the end of the primaries Mr. Obama would have about 100 more pledged delegates than Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Fowler said that “everything humanly possible should be done” to keep that number below 100, because it would be easier to persuade superdelegates that the two were essentially tied.
It was the sense among many superdelegates that they should follow the voters’ lead rather than loyalty to the Clintons that prompted many to come out on Mr. Obama’s behalf.