The notion of super-delegates has taken quite a beating in recent months as the contest between Hillary and Obama has heated up. Given the general weakness of Democrats and their inability to resist those who yell loudly, it’s likely that super-delegates will either be abolished or reduced in importance by next election. This would be a mistake.
For one reason, this is the exact sort of primary that super-delegates can lend their expertise to most clearly. Putting all histrionics aside, this is a very close election. Despite the common media meme that Obama is sweeping away the primary season, he has less than 53% of the pledged delegates so far. (Hillary has a slight lead among super-delegates.) When also taking into account that many of Obama’s delegates were elected in caucuses rather than primaries, which include a larger number of people, it’s hard to portray Obama as the overwhelming choice of the Democratic electorate. Further, Hillary won votes in two states that aren’t included in those delegate totals either. The plain fact is neither candidate can claim to be the clear choice of the Democrat party delegates.
The popular vote is similarly close. RealClearPolitics has Obama with a 2.2% margin in the popular vote. But when Florida is included, his margin shrinks to 1.2%. Include Michigan, and it shrinks to 0.26%. Add in estimates from the caucus states, and his margin rises to 0.57%, which can hardly claim to be an overwhelming mandate.
So, this is the perfect situation for super-delegates to resolve. With no clear mandate for a candidate, super-delegates can look at each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses and can choose who they feel will best represent the party in the general election. People are chosen super-delegate based off years of experience and service to the Democrat party and should therefore best understand politics and what the party needs to compete in the fall.
In addition to their superior knowledge of the political process, as a result of their involvement, super-delegates may know information about a candidate that hasn’t become widely known yet that may greatly diminish a candidate’s chances of winning should it come out during the general election campaign. (In this context, examples might be that Obama really is a practicing Muslim or that Hillary really does play the other side of the field, so to speak.)
I’ve actually had experience with this sort of matter. I won’t name names, but there was a candidate a few years ago who had some embarrassing issues in their past. (I don’t remember the issue now.) Had this come out, their family would have been humiliated. Any chance they had of winning the election would have vanished. The issue had happened years in the past, and by all accounts the person had turned their life around, and so didn’t deserve the matter being brought up. And the person’s spouse and children didn’t deserve to be put through the wringer of having this become public. We only found out about it after a local news agency discovered it and was planning on running the story. Fortunately, they were talked out of it since the candidate was extremely unlikely to win, was largely unsupported by the GOP and didn’t deserve to be embarrassed. The person has not run again for any office, but I’ve kept my eyes out since to make sure they don’t try to. If they should decide to run again, I’ll be sure to take them aside and explain that their “secret” is out and will likely become public should they proceed in their candidacy.
It’s that sort of insider knowledge that super-delegates can bring to the table and can use to prevent embarrassment and humiliation to someone who doesn’t deserve it.
So, super-delegates do have an important role to play in the process and tossing them aside could hurt the Democrats in the future. They dispose of them at their own risk.