Saturday, June 07, 2008

Superdelegate firewall failed Clinton

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at

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.
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.
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.


Unknown said...

I think when you have a situation with an African American and a woman, even a pledged delegate lead of 1 would be determinative...the Superdelegates would never have taken the nominee away from either historic candidate...

Unknown said...

Just looking back at this primary season, I feel pretty confidant about Obama's chances. While there is still a lot of work to be done, Sen. Obama successfully overcame a lot of odds. He was able to beat the most powerful family in the Democratic party, while he was still not that well known nationally, but he and his advisers ran such a great grassroots campaign that he was able to spread his word out and raise a lot of money without having to rely on PAC's.

I understand why the Clinton's thought that the firewall would have worked, but they, along with many other people, didn't account for Sen. Obama to catch fire in the beginning of the race, and once he got the momentum, the race had been already decided.

tmess2 said...

I think the reliance on the firewall was another of the numerous flawed strategic assumptions of the Clinton campaign.

While the Clinton's had long contacts with many of the folks:

1) A significant number of the elected officials were new (i.e. elected since 2000) and, even of the older ones, many had memories of how poorly the party had done downballot under President Clinton. As such, the over 300 electeds were not quite sure things either.

2) While the DNC should have been a good base for the Clinton campaign, there had been changes there too (new people elected to the DNC in 2000 and 2004, changes in state chairs and vice-chairs, and to the representatives of the electeds and the at-large members).

In short, the unpledged delegates were a good head start in the race for the nomination, but there was no reason to expect those who were on the fence in January of 2008 to intervene on here side if she found herself trailing.

Stephane MOT said...

this was no firewall. even the 2209 dam is broken now.

this is just one more illustration of the state of denial of a candidate who could have succeeded but never changed her strategy, even after Super Tuesday.

the victory was not stolen from her, nor the SDs. she simply didn't own them and took Bill's heritage for a given.

time shall mend the wounds and her Saturday speech was punchy enough.

Unknown said...

Just wondered what you "out there" would suggest for a VP for Senator Obama