The Battle for Delegates

Burned are the dreams and frayed are the hopes of the new man of American politics after his two defeats in the large states of Texas and Ohio, as the resurrection of Senator Clinton reawakens the struggle within the Democratic Party for the cold and obscure reality of numbers and the electoral system.

As the entire world shockingly discovered with the tragic-comedy of November 2000, when George Bush was elevated to the Presidency without obtaining a majority of the popular vote and with everything hanging on 537 votes in Florida and a ruling by the Supreme Court, winning is not necessarily enough to achieve victory and losing is not always sufficient to be defeated.

The goal of the primary elections, those that must determine the person who will contend for the White House at the general election next November 4th, is not to win more overall votes than your opponent but to transform those votes into delegations, which are representatives for the candidate who will then participate at the final party convention, capable – but not necessarily required to do so – of nominating their champion. The delegates are chosen in the name of and on behalf of the candidates, but they are able to change their votes at the convention, as it so often happens.

And here, in this series of passages and narrows, the race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is fastened in a whirlpool of hypotheses and variables that explain why today, for the first time, Mrs. Clinton might have presumed the possibility of a hooking Obama as her own running mate on the final ticket. It would certainly not be born from good feelings or enthusiasm, but rather because the duel between the two is dividing the party and risks handing over the Presidency once again to a Republican party that, after Bush, deservedly seemed, between the war and economy’s collapse, destined to lose.

In order to be nominated, in order to be chosen as the party’s candidate for the White House it is necessary to command a majority of the delegates at the Convention that will meet in Denver, Colorado at the end of August. Two thousand and twenty-five of them are needed, an absolute and final majority, while as of now the count, including those not yet assigned from Texas, has Obama with at least 1340 of them and Hillary with 1206, even if the count fluctuates. Six hundred and fifty-seven delegates remain in play and therefore neither of the two has any hope of obtaining, by winning the remaining primaries, the 2025 along with the popular vote.

Therefore, in order to arrive at the fateful number, they must count on the vote of the ‘superdelegates,’ 796 big cheeses, legislators, celebrities, former candidates, assorted politicos, well-connected donors – an army of bureaucrats elected by no one, but instead selected by the Democratic leadership. They will be, whether choosing for convenience, for genuine interest, or for the sake of opportunism, the ones who will produce a candidate, Hillary or Obama, that was not able to win through the popular vote.

And here lies the poisonous knot that the Democrats must untangle without remaining affected by it. Because if these ‘leaders’ of the party might have to line up with whichever of the two has received fewer votes (as of now Obama has 800,000 more than Hillary) it would be a victory of the apparatus over the citizen, the most blatant contradiction of the boasted principle of democracy. But if by the 7th of June – the date of the last primary which will be held in Puerto Rico – Hillary has continued in her series of victories and if she has won the largest remaining morsel, Pennsylvania, where they will vote {April 22nd}, even though she will still be behind Obama in the delegate count, the party apparatus will be rightly able to note that she has won all the important states, such as Texas, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, and Massachusetts. And if the math still favors Obama, the political calculation, which is what matters in the end, will favor Hillary.

Twelve states are still missing from the final roll call and the proportional mechanism that assigns delegates in fact guarantees that Hillary will not be able to overcome her arithmetical disadvantage even by winning all of the contests, from Kentucky to Pennsylvania, from West Virginia to North Carolina to Mississippi. At the Convention at the end of August, if Obama, today facing an apparent crisis after having soared so high, perhaps too high, does not have to suddenly withdraw himself, then we will arrive in Denver with a Hillary still in the minority but with sails inflated by success, and with an Obama still leading a majority but his rudder grounded.

It is left to the ‘bonzi’ of a party that is still controlled by the “Clinton & Clinton” machine more than by that of the African-American Senator the bitter task of officially deciding, in a non-democratic way, who will represent them against McCain in November. Thus, as a result of having wanted to create a perfectly proportional electoral process, but adding the ‘correcting’ element of the “superdelegates” in order to limit the damage of future demagogic and unelectable candidates, the Democrats find themselves in a bog that might end up being quicksand.

The unanticipated and unforeseen success of the forty-year-old ‘dreamer’ Obama has destroyed the house of cards designed for the triumphant march of the Clintons and instead the cards have been scattered on the table by an electorate that mobilized for ‘a man of hope’; an electorate that might desert the ballot box in November if it feels deprived of enthusiasm. Because of this talk has begun – in tones of desperation rather than choice – of a possible pairing of the two. And the talk is always of one of the two being willing to stand below and renouncing the top spot and then dealing with the heavy and inconvenient presence that will burden either a Clinton presidency or vice-presidency.