Have you wondered why John Edwards is still staying in the presdential race even though he clearly has no chance of winning the nomination? Well, truth be told, he may be the one man who gets to decide who wins this race. It all has to do with delegates. With all this hoopla about “winning” and “losing” state primaries and caucuses, it’s easy to forget about delegates. Just because a candidate wins a state doesn’t mean that candidate gets the entire state’s support. Here’s how it works:
Every state has a a preset number of delegates for each party (how many delegates is determined by each party). These delegates will go to the Democratic National Convention in August and vote for which candidate gets the party’s nomination for president. These delegates are told who to vote for by their state’s caucus or primary. If Obama gets 55% of the votes in South Carolina, he’ll get roughly 55% of the delegates. If Hillary gets 27% of the votes in South Carolina, she’ll get approximently 27% of the delegates. This is how inconsistencies can come up like in Nevada where Obama technically won more delegates than Hillary did, even though Hillary “won” the state.
Further complicating the matter is the issue of superdelegates. Superdelegates are elected officeholders and party officials (like Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy) who get to go to the convention and vote for whomever they want. While technically only the Democrats have superdelegates, Republicans have a similar group of of delegates from the Republican National Committee who more or less play the same role. Additionally, superdelegates can change their mind about who they’re voting for at any time. Again, these superdelegates get to vote for whichever candidate they want, while normal delegates vote for the candidate that got the corresponding number of votes in the delegate’s state.
Understanding the role of delegates in nominating presidential candidates is essential to understanding why John Edwards is still in the race. The magic number of delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination is 2,025 (1,191 for Republicans). With it looking increasingly unlikely that either Obama or Hillary will win Super Tuesday with enough delegates to secure the nomination, the race could continue all the way to the Democratic National Convention.
This is where John Edwards comes in. Despite that fact that’s he isn’t going to win the nomination, he’s still winning delegates in every state he competes in. If he rides the election out through Super Tuesday, he could theoretically come out with enough delegates to swing the nomination to either Obama or Clinton, depending on who he would like to award his delegates to. If this is the case, then the most important political endorsement, will be John Edwards’.
Edwards could be staying in the race for any number of reasons. If it turns out that both Clinton and Obama need his delegates, they’ll likely want to be his best friend. This will give him considerable influence about setting the agenda, which he has been doing this entire campaign. Additionally, he could even use his delegates to broker a deal with Obama or Hillary to become vice-president.
Whether his continued presence in the race will hurt Obama or Clinton on Feb. 5th remains to be seen. He could split that change-vote and hurt Obama like he did in New Hampshire, or he could divide the white vote with Hillary like he did in South Carolina and actually help Obama. Either way, what’s really important is who he chooses to award his delegates to when he does eventually drop out.
Regardless of who he eventually awards his delegates and his reasons for staying in the race, I don’t support this decision by Edwards. Even if he has the best of intentions for setting the agenda to issues he thinks are important, what this amounts to is political blackmail. Ultimately, the American people who are turning out to polls in record numbers should be the ones who get to decide who becomes their party’s nominee, not John Edwards.
Talk about an unprecedented election…
Power Through Delegates May Be Edwards Strategy – [New York Times]