Another Clinton Superdelegate has switched support to Obama. As the media and supporters for each side recalculate the delegate count, they should not lose sight of the fact that a delegate can and did change a pledge. The only delegate count that matters is the one taken at the convention.
Not only can Superdelegates change their minds, pledged delegates can, too. The identities of the Superdelegates are easily known. Superdelegates often hold positions where they can be held accountable for their votes. That is not true of pledged delegates. Most of us do not even know the names of the people we are counting on to represent us at the national convention.
I don't know how often a pledged delegate has changed his or her vote from one candidate to another at the convention. Delegates tend to be passionate voters, thrilled to be part of the political process, eager to publicly vote for the candidate they have supported through the primary season, even if that candidate has no chance of winning. But that doesn't stop campaigns from trying to win over delegates pledged to another candidate at the convention. I know. I was a delegate for Gary Hart at the 1984 Democratic Convention.
Participating in the 1984 Democratic Convention was an incomparable experience. I was able to vote to confirm the first woman nominated by a major party for the Vice President of the United States. I heard Mario Cuomo's historic speech--live. I heard Jesse Jackson's speech--live.
On the first day of the convention, I lined up to enter the convention center at the appointed hour, even though no votes would be taken then, no historic speeches given until later. I walked past the booths for candidates and issues and soon was covered with buttons, even though I had vowed not to look like one of those crazy delegates I had seen on TV in years past. I was swept up in the reality of participating directly in democracy.
In 1984, Walter Mondale did not have enough pledged delegates to win the nomination. He needed, and had lined up prior to the convention, enough Superdelegates to win the nomination on the first ballot. Gary Hart, however, was polling better than Mondale against Ronald Reagan, and those of us who supported Hart still held out hope that the convention would see that he would be a more electable nominee.
Neither the Mondale campaign nor the Hart campaign took the delegate count for granted. In the days before the first vote was taken, pledged delegates were feted and wooed and pressured. We caucused. We were invited to meet with campaign leaders who pitched the importance of electability and party unity. We realized we had both responsibility to those who had elected us as delegates and the power to do what was best for the party.
When Gary Hart was nominated, we gave voice to the passion that had called each of us to pay our own ways to the convention in San Francisco. We did not care what the pre-convention vote count indicated. It was important to us to be heard.
When it came time for the first ballots to be cast, our state representative did not simply enter a vote total based on the state caucuses and convention; he polled each of us for our votes at that moment.
I don't know if anyone changed their votes. I did not. The outcome was as predicted: Mondale on the first ballot. And when the results were announced, I held up my "Mondale-Ferraro" sign like everyone else. I cheered as loudly as I had when Gary Hart was nominated.
Whatever the pledged delegate count at the end of the primary season, whatever the Superdelegate count the day before the convention, I feel certain that during the first few days of the 2008 convention, before the first ballot is taken, both the Obama and the Clinton campaigns will be taking advantage of their first opportunities to meet with pledged delegates. Campaigns will dispatch Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton to shore up their supporters and try to win over new supporters, making the case for electability and party unity, reminding delegates that they are not obligated to vote for the candidate to whom they are pledged.
Whether Sen. Hillary Clinton stays in this race or officially withdraws, her name will be entered as a nominee. She will want every delegate already pledged to her to vote for her at the convention, and those who have supported her as the first woman taken seriously (by the media) as a nominee, will enthusiastically vote for her. She will be given the opportunity to speak to the convention, which I hope she will use to (finally) express why it is important to have women's experience reflected at the top levels of our government.
As a woman and as a firm believer in democracy, I want her and her supporters to have this opportunity.
As an Obama supporter, I want his delegates to understand that they will face pressure at the convention. I want his supporters to understand that any scenario in which Clinton "withdraws" from the race does not necessarily change a convention strategy.
The only delegate count that matters is the vote at the convention.