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Raw Politics: Superdelegates could be deciding factor

  • Story Highlights
  • Superdelegates vote at convention for candidate of choice
  • Obama winning more delegates in actual primaries and caucuses
  • Clinton ahead in overall delegate count; more superdelegates say they'll vote for her
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By Tom Foreman
CNN Washington Bureau
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"Raw Politics" on "Anderson Cooper 360" delivers the latest political news with a wry sense of a humor and without spin.

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CNN's Tom Foreman reports from the campaign trail last month.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Americans like a level playing field.

We wouldn't watch the Super Bowl if one team was given a free touchdown to start. We're apoplectic over the idea of baseball players loading up on steroids.

No wonder the Democratic Party is facing serious scrutiny over the idea that superdelegates are tilting its presidential playing field in favor of Hillary Clinton.

If you haven't heard of these folks in past elections, don't feel bad. They have been, at times, a rather obscure bunch.

Here's their story, in short:

A few decades ago, Democratic leaders felt that sometimes, Democratic voters were choosing poor presidential candidates: campaigners who couldn't win elections, or even if they could, they didn't please Democratic kingmakers.

Jimmy Carter, for example, was an obscure candidate who developed so much popular appeal that he essentially forced Democratic Party leaders to accept him as the nominee, even though not everyone was thrilled by it.

See? So the party changed the rules for picking its nominee.

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They made the superdelegates: a super class of super Democrats, each of whom could vote at the convention for a candidate of choice -- in effect, giving each of these Democrats the power of tens of thousands of average citizens. What are delegates? »

Who are they? Democratic members of Congress, governors, big-shot party members: Bill Clinton, for example. The theory was that the superdelegates could help steer the party toward solid, competitive candidates, and away from Monday morning regrets.

There are about 800 of them, and that's a lot when you can win the nomination with only about 2,000 delegates. Hence the controversy. Even though Barack Obama is winning more delegates in actual primaries and caucuses, Hillary Clinton is substantially ahead of him in the overall delegate count because many more superdelegates say they will vote for her.

Maybe that shouldn't matter. Both candidates knew the rules when they started. If she's better at securing these delegates, good for her, too bad for him.

But that argument may clatter like a counterfeit quarter with the general public if this race continues neck-and-neck down to the convention, if the Democratic nominee is not selected by a sea of Americans voters, but instead is anointed by party leaders.

Superdelegates can change their minds, and if Obama starts running away with the popular vote, you can bet your house some of them will stampede from Camp Clinton.

But if the race remains very tight, and the superdelegates are the deciding factor, the Democratic Party can expect some tough questions.

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Remember, many staunch Democrats have always felt Al Gore had his presidency stolen by the courts and the Electoral College.

If the superdelegates decide this race, there will certainly be a lot of heated debates within the party, and perhaps a very cold November awaiting the nominee. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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