Dems Debate Poaching of Pledged Delegates

February 19, 2008 3:52:43 PM PST
Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said Tuesday that Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., will not go after Sen. Barack Obama's, D-Ill., pledged delegates after an unnamed Clinton official told Politico that both campaigns would pursue such a course if there is a "stalemate" between Clinton and Obama going into this summer's Democratic convention. "We issued a very Shermanesque statement earlier today," said Wolfson on a conference call with reporters. "We have not, are not, and will not pursue the pledged delegates of Barack Obama. We think Sen. Obama's campaign owes you all a clear answer as to whether they will pursue our pledged delegates."

Asked if Obama would vow not to go after Clinton's pledged delegates, Obama spokesman Bill Burton told ABC News, "We're not going to do that. My question is: 'Why didn't they deny this yesterday?' It fits a pattern of their willingness to say or do anything to win the nomination."

The Democratic campaigns debated the poaching of pledged delegates on Tuesday because a high-ranking Clinton official told Politico that as we get closer to the Democratic convention, "if it is a stalemate, everybody will be going after everybody's delegates." Politico also had Clinton spokesman Phil Singer saying he assumes the Obama campaign is going after delegates pledged to Clinton.

On a Tuesday conference call with reporters, David Wilhelm, an Obama supporter who managed Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, criticized Hillary Clinton for the Politico story, saying: "Sometimes nominations are not worth having and one of those times would be when the nomination comes at the cost of ripping the party apart."

After a 1980 Democratic convention fight between Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and then-President Jimmy Carter, the Democratic Party changed its rules so that pledged delegates -- those which are allocated from winning primaries and caucuses -- are not bound (not even on the first ballot). Kennedy was behind Carter in pledged delegates going into the convention. But supporters of the Massachusetts senator believed that if given the freedom to "vote their conscience," the delegates would have chosen Kennedy to be their standard-bearer.

Due to what was derided at the time as "the robot rule," pledged delegates were not allowed in 1980 to switch their allegiance to Kennedy. Carter went on to lose in the fall to Ronald Reagan.

While pledged delegates are no longer bound, it's rare for them to switch allegiance at the convention because the respective campaigns find loyalists to serve as pledged delegates.

"They have total discretion. Pledged delegates are not bound, so they can change their mind as many times as they want," a senior Clinton adviser told ABC News last week. "Having said that, I've slated delegates in many elections for many candidates and they basically are wholly owned real estate."