Who are the superdelegates?


Presidential candidates from each party are vying for delegates at caucuses and primaries throughout the country this winter and spring, but some delegates cannot be wooed by courting caucus-goers and primary voters. In the Democratic Party they are called superdelegates, and in the Republican Party they are unpledged delegates. Unlike pledged delegates, many are not selected by the voters in each party.

In the nomination process, the presidential candidates spend considerable time attempting to garner the support of the superdelegates and unpledged delegates as well as the popular vote.

The best explanation I’ve seen for superdelegates came from The Tahlequah Daily Press in Oklahoma last week. “The essential purpose of superdelegates is to maintain some control of the nominating process by establishment party elites,” said Northeastern State University political science professor Dr. Ron Becker. “It is purely undemocratic, but the reasoning makes sense because primary elections and caucuses are dominated by party activists, as the typical voter does not turn out to vote.

“[I]f the Democrats nominate a candidate too far to the left, or the Republicans nominate a candidate too far to the right, this candidate will lose the general election to the more mainstream candidate,” he said. “So the idea here is to have the establishment party leaders maintain some control over nominations.”

The complex process of delegate selection is laid out below, and it is confusing. The process confused this writer even after hours of researching it. For a better understanding of each party’s delegate system, a good idea is to request the constitution and bylaws for each particular party.

Democratic Party

Superdelegates make up one-fifth of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention. There are 4,090 total delegates to the DNC, of which 796 are superdelegates and have free reign to choose whichever candidate they like best.

The superdelegates include Democratic National Committee members living in Minnesota, all Democratic members of Congress, the Democratic governors if applicable, and distinguished party members — which could include former U.S. presidents, vice presidents or former congressional leaders. In Minnesota, that includes former Vice President Walter Mondale. The same formula is applied to the other states.

In Minnesota, there are 47 pledged delegates elected from the districts and 16 at-large delegates chosen at the state convention. There are also nine pledged party-leader and elected-official — called PLEO — delegates and 16 unpledged delegates, 14 of whom are superdelegates who are free to select whomever they like at the convention.

The nine PLEO delegates are selected at the state convention. They are bound by presidential preference determined at the caucuses and are selected in the following order of importance: big-city mayors and statewide elected officials, state legislative leaders, state legislators, and other state, county and local elected officials and party leaders.

Two unpledged add-on delegates are selected at the state convention as well. Like superdelegates, they have free reign to choose the candidate of their liking.

Of the 14 superdelegates from Minnesota, six have not endorsed a presidential candidate: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Reps. Tim Walz and Collin Peterson, DFL Chair Brian Melendez, DFL Vice Chair Donna Cassutt and Democratic National Committeeman Ken Foxworth.

Four have endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton: Mondale and Democratic National Committee members Jackie Stevenson, Rick Stafford and Hubert “Buck” Humphrey.

Two have endorsed Sen. Barack Obama: Reps. Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum, and two have endorsed John Edwards: Rep. Jim Oberstar and Democratic National Committee member Nancy Larson.

Republican Party

The Republican Party does not have superdelegates. There are 463 unpledged delegates to the Republican National Convention out of 2,380 total delegates. Of those, 123 are members of the Republican National Committee.

In Minnesota, each of the state’s eight congressional districts select three delegates for the convention. These are pledged delegates and will have a presidential preference attached to their voting at the national convention. Each congressional district chooses how that presidential preference will be allocated.

At the state convention, another 14 at-large delegates are chosen who may or may to be bound by presidential preference. That decision is made by a vote of the convention attendees.

Three party leaders from Minnesota — two members of the Republican National Committee (must be one man and one woman) and the chairman of the Minnesota’s Republican Party — are sent to the national convention as unpledged delegates who have free reign to choose whichever candidate they like, independent of how Minnesota Republicans vote in the caucus. These are as close to superdelegates as the Republican Party has.

To date, all three party leaders have endorsed candidates. Brian Sullivan, Minnesota national committeeman, and Evie Axdahl, Minnesota national committeewoman, have signed on to chair the campaign of Mitt Romney. The Republican Party of Minnesota chairman traditionally does not endorse candidates early in the election cycle, but Chairman Ron Carey broke with tradition last week and endorsed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.