Burden of Proof

Posted: Apr 13, 2008 12:00 AM
Burden of Proof

Every other story written by journalists across the country gives a spreadsheet of reasons why Hillary Clinton should step out of the Democrats’ campaign.

Yet in the public’s eye, there she stands as though she has not a care in the world.

One reason may be that the party’s super-delegates who remain uncommitted have an unspoken burden of proof to determine whether this race goes on or not. So far, they have not exercised their superpowers.

Since no one has called a swift press conference en masse behind Barack Obama, could it be that neither candidate has fulfilled that burden of proof?

Clinton emphasized recently that super-delegates have a responsibility to exercise their judgment not only as to who would be the best president but also as to who would be the strongest nominee.

“I believe that the super-delegates should do the same as any other delegate or voter, which is to determine who they believe will be the best president,” she said.

“Hillary Clinton is on a path to victory that isn't outside the realm of possibility, so it makes sense for her to stay in,” says political science professor Matt Lebo at New York's Stony Brook University.

A Clinton win in Pennsylvania will give her momentum to win Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia. If that happens, her net popular votes would match – and possibly pass –Obama’s.

At that point, Lebo says, Clinton has a chance to convince 55 percent to 60 percent of the super-delegates that she should be the nominee. “That scenario is possible, though unlikely," he points out. “Convincing pledged delegates to ignore their pledges on the first ballot at the convention is very unlikely, and a second ballot looks equally unlikely at this point.”

Part of the equation that keeps Clinton confidently in this race is delegate math. Contrary to popular belief, not much separates a pledged delegate from a super-delegate; each can exercise free will and change his or her mind.

“While it is true that a pledged delegate could essentially break their pledge, it is very unlikely to actually happen,” says Brain Schaffner, American University political science professor.

Schaffner is probably right: Pledged delegates usually are selected by the campaigns because of their loyalty. Barring some event that causes Obama to lose even his most ardent supporters, these pledged delegates will remain loyal to their candidate.

So where does Clinton draw her confidence from?

She knows that by the present delegate numbers, she cannot win the nomination but – and this is a big “but” – Obama can still lose it.

Clinton may be depending on the reason the Hunt Commission created super-delegates: Some major Obama misstep or scandal that could propel Clinton into the nomination. As long as she is in the race, there is a chance she could end up as the nominee.

“Hillary Clinton stays in this race until Denver, no matter what,” speculates one GOP political strategist. “She is pinning her hopes that either Obama falters or that the opposition research her team has been sitting on makes its way out from June to August.”

Super-delegates are designed to be free and unpledged. Close to 500 super-delegates have chosen to pledge already, and a handful have switched back and forth. For whatever reason, look for a couple hundred to hold out until the inevitable reckoning, which will come after one candidate loses a primary he or she was supposed to win or after the primaries conclude and it finally is time to make a choice.

Until then, even though the delegates and the popular vote are on Obama’s side, the uncertainty of the remaining super-delegates is the glue that holds Clinton together – although everyone probably agrees that all bets are off if Obama wins Pennsylvania.