campaign desk

"Not Voting With Their People"?

The Times takes the super out of superdelegates
February 18, 2008

Yesterday’s story in the New York Times about how the hunt for superdelegates is proceeding on the Democratic side gave away the paper’s own position on a question that will be a critical in the near future of the campaign. The piece focused on the three hundred or so undecided superdelegates and only lightly touched on the dispute just beginning to bubble up between the Clinton and Obama camps about how these highly enfranchised party officials, governors, and senators should make their decision. Since the day after Super Tuesday, when it began dawning on all observers that this race would not be unequivocally decided by the primary and caucus voters alone, Obama has staked out a position that the superdelegates should vote for the candidate who received the highest percentage of the popular vote either statewide or in individual congressional districts. Clinton’s people have meanwhile taken the more traditional view, insisting that superdelegates should pick whomever they think would make the best candidate in a general election and an eventual president, regardless of popular vote (a position that clearly favors a candidate like Clinton, who can call in almost two decades of political favors).

Very little of this debate made its way into the article itself—but then there was the accompanying graphic. It lists by name, like a roll call of shame, all the superdelegates that have pledged to vote for a candidate other than the one picked by the popular vote in their state or district. The graphic’s headline? “Not Voting With Their People.” It has the look of a blacklist, with those on it seeming simply disdainful of democracy itself. Not surprisingly, this exercise found 79 superdelegates who are supporting Clinton but in states and districts won by Obama, while there are only 34 in the opposite position, supporting Obama but in Clinton country.

This seemed a glaring piece of editorializing, a visual assist to Obama’s argument about the superdelegates (which, it should be said, does seem more democratic than Clinton’s), putting the heat on those members of the party who got called out.

It’s always revealing who gets the last word in any article, especially one weighing two competing ideas. This time it went to Christine Pelosi, daughter of the House Speaker and a superdelegate. What’s her position? How does she think a superdelegate should make her decision? “Barack won in San Francisco and Hillary won California; I think they are both great,” she said. “But I’m going to vote for the winner of the delegate vote; I just think the best thing for me to do is respect the view of voters.”

Now, I wonder what the New York Times really thinks about this question?

Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR and a writer and editor for the New York Times Book Review.