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There are 796 of them, and if neither Mr. Obama nor Mrs. Clinton emerges from the primary season with the 2,025 delegates necessary to secure the nomination, they will in essence serve as tiebreakers. That is a result both sides see as increasingly likely.
The superdelegates include all Democratic governors and members of Congress, as well as officials and other prominent members of the party.
About 15 to 20 percent of the delegates at Democratic conventions are superdelegates.
How and why super delegates came into being.....
After the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the Democratic Party implemented changes in its delegate selection process, based on the work of the McGovern-Fraser Commission. The purpose of the changes was to make the composition of the convention less subject to control by party leaders and more responsive to the votes cast during the campaign for the nomination.
These comprehensive changes left some Democrats believing that the role of party leaders and elected officials had been unduly diminished, weakening the Democratic ticket. In response, the superdelegate rule was instituted after the 1980 election. Its purpose was to accord a greater role to active politicians. Link
Obama currently has 931 regular delegates, Hillary has 882. Maine is not included in those numbers.
224 super delegates currently are in the Hillary camp, 126 super delegates currently stand with Obama.
That gives Hillary 1106 total delegates and Obama 1057......2025 are needed to win.
Approximately 371 super delegates have yet to declare. Link and list of committed delgates here.
By my count from this NY Times link, including Maine.....there are 1585 regular delegates yet to be determined in future primaries and/or caucuses.
Just for the sake of argument, let's say the two candidates split the rest of the regular delegates.
That would give Hillary approximately 1900+ delegates and Obama approximately 1850. Still not enough to win the nomination outright.
Add to that the problem states of Florida and Michigan, whose delegates are currently in limbo because those states disobeyed the National Democratic Party and moved their primaries forward to January. The total delegates from those two states are 350.
This all looks like a multiple vehicle pile-up about to happen.
The Chairman of the Democratic Party, Howard Dean, said this week, "I think we will have a nominee sometime in the middle of March or April. But if we don't, then we're going to have to get the candidates together and make some kind of an arrangement," said Dean. Link
The use of the word, "arrangement", makes Dean's comment interpretive.....so I have no idea what he means.
Obama says this about what super delegates should do....
"... my strong belief is that if we end up with the most states and the most pledged delegates from the most voters in the country that it would be problematic for the political insiders to overturn the judgment of the voters." Link
Nevertheless, it may still happen.
Worst case scenario could be Obama winning the regular delegate count and the total vote count and still losing the nomination because of super delegates tilting the race to Hillary. If that happens newbees excited about Obama will lose their faith, stay home in November and McCain will beat Hillary. Independent voters will vote for McCain over Hillary anyway. Add to that existing problem a host of disappointed and disenchanted Obama voters who just stay home.....well....we'll have to adapt to four more years of the Bush Doctrine mediated through a John McCain presidency.
You go to primary with the primary rules you have, not with the primary rules you would like to have.
This will require strong leadership from Howard Dean. There's plenty of time.
UPDATE: Obama leading in Maine 57%-42%.