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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Local Presidential Results a Microcosm of the Debate About to Sweep The Nation Regarding the Role of Superdelegates

In a year where the Democratic Presidential Nomination is coming down to the wire, it is interesting to look at how things have transpired locally for the Democratic Race.

Davis and most of Yolo County are represented by Congressman Mike Thompson in the First Congressional District. When Thompson first became Congressman, the first district was a swing district, it had been held at times by Republicans, most notably by Frank Riggs who was elected in 1990 but lost in 1992, then won again in the tumultuous 1994 election and held it for two terms.

However after the districts were redrawn, Congressman Thompson's district was given an inland intrusion to include liberal areas such as Yolo County to make it a safe seat.

Two weeks ago, the first Congressional District of California went to Barack Obama by 450 votes. Barack Obama won Humboldt, Mendocino, Sonoma, and Yolo Counties. While Hillary won Del Norte, Napa and Lake.

It was Yolo County's razor thin 900 vote win that put Obama over the top. It was Davis' 3400 vote landslide where Obama took all but one precinct that put Obama over-the-top on election night.

But now the battle turns to the Superdelegates. This is a system that has really not been tested. It is rooted in the McGovern-Fraser reforms. In many ways this was result of the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention, really the last time there was a contested Democratic nomination.

The commission examined rules and recommended broadening participation. Part of that included an opening of the delegate selection procedures where party leaders could no longer simply secretly handpick the convention delegates and these delegates were to be propportional to the population of the state.

The result was that most states went to a primary election in order to select convention delegates.

The system has been in place since 1972, really to great controversy. Most believe that for instance George McGovern who was among the namesake for the commission would never have won the Democratic Nomination under the old rules. And some have wondered if the people do the best job of picking the nominees.

However for the purposes of our discussion, one of the factors that is coming to light is that this system has never been put to a test. We have not had a contested nomination in the true sense where the winner was unclear under this system.

So now you have a large number of Superdelegates, most of whom are simply elected officials and the margins of the committed delegates are such those Superdelegates--i.e. in many respects party insiders, will become the swing votes.

The question is, what would happen if one candidate won the majority of the vote and committed delegates but the other candidate won due to the Superdelegates? Would this create a Florida style controversy in the Democratic Party that would tear it apart, much as the 1968 Convention would tear it apart literally. There have been nine presidential elections since 1968, the Democrats have won just three of them.

Some have suggested that Superdelegates should be mindful of the choices their electorates have made and follow their lead to determine who they ought to vote for.

That brings us to our own mini-controversy if you will. Congressman Mike Thompson lives in a district that voted narrowly for Barack Obama. However, he is a Hillary Clinton endorser.

The same city of Davis that makes this a safe Democratic seat is the same city that gave Barack Obama this congressional district.

On the other hand, as narrow a vote as it was district wide, it is difficult for the voters to demand that he follow their narrow will rather than his own conscience. However, it is a factor that should at least be taken into account.

For the first time 40 years the Democrats appear to have a tightly contested nomination. Perhaps one in nine is not a reason to revisit the rules. Perhaps it is.

Regardless, it is likely that people like Congressman Thompson will play a large role in determining whether the party tears itself apart or whether they can forge out a consensus so that we can all come together and win in November which is the real battle--not with each other but with the Republicans--to decide who gets to determine the course of the nation for the next four years.

A close election battle is a good thing for the most part but if it ends in controversy, if it drags until the convention, then it will be tough to regroup in time to win come November. The first step on that road is the determination of Superdelegates as to how they should vote. And one factor there ought to be the direction that their district went.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting