NJ super delegates become more important

February 6, 2008 5:45:22 PM PST
Presidential candidates may seek our votes, but they really want our delegates. And, they covet our superdelegates.

Delegates and superdelegates are appointed party representatives who cast votes at each party's convention to select the nominees for president. For Democrats, there are 2,025 delegates; Republicans have 1,191 delegates.

Most delegates are beholden by party rules to pledge their support to a certain candidate based on the popular vote, but some superdelegates are free to vote for whomever they choose - making them prized in an election year where both parties' contests have been so close.

Super Tuesday victories so far have given Hillary Rodham Clinton a total of 1,000 Democratic delegates to Barack Obama's 902.

Republican John McCain now has 703 delegates - far ahead of his closest competitor.

In New Jersey, Republicans have 52 delegates awarded according to the popular vote; McCain won all of them Tuesday.

The distribution of Democratic delegates is more complicated.

Democrats have 127 delegates, 20 of whom are superdelegates who can vote freely.

Of the 107 delegates up for grabs in the primary, 70 are doled out proportionally based on vote totals in special delegate districts; the remaining 37 are awarded proportionally based on vote totals statewide.

"All voters should really understand is they're proportioned to the vote with the exception of super delegates," said Assemblyman Joe Cryan, the state Democratic Party chairman.

Thus, while Clinton beat Obama by 10 points to win New Jersey's Democratic primary, each candidate will walk away with a significant number of the delegates in their continuing fight for the nomination.

According to the Democratic State Committee, Clinton has secured 59 New Jersey delegates and Obama has gotten 48.

Of the 20 Democratic superdelegates - elected officials and Democratic National Committee members - who have expressed a candidate preference, Clinton is leading Obama, 13-1.

However, superdelegates can change their minds and are not bound to reflect the popular vote.

Political scientist Peter Woolley said the Democratic and Republican delegate systems each have pros and cons.

He said winner-take-all approach encourages early consensus around one candidate while proportional allotment of delegates encourages candidates to visit the state even if they are not the front-runner.

"That tends to be good for voters," Woolley said. "Voters will get a more vigorous campaign and they are more likely to have their choice expressed at the national convention."

But some politicians would like to see the Democratic superdelegates forced to vote in accordance with the popular vote.

Senate President Richard Codey, an Obama backer, thinks that since the Democratic race was close, superdelegates are ethically bound to split their votes proportionally.

Cryan disagreed, saying it's not fair to suddenly do things differently.

"A sports fan like Dick Codey should know you don't change the rules in the middle of the game," Cryan said.

Sen. Robert Menendez, Clinton's national campaign co-chairman, said most superdelegates were voted into office, and are expected to exhibit their judgment as party leaders.