What Does It Mean to “Clinch the Nomination” When Superdelegates Are Involved? [...]

When a Democratic candidate hits the magic number of pledged delegates plus superdelegates, are they the nominee? History says yes, and says it unambiguously, even if the losers often disagree.

Here’s how it has gone since the superdelegates were added to the process.

In 1984, the first year that superdelegates were being used, they made a good deal of difference to Mondale. The multiple candidates that year gave Mondale a solid lead, but also fractured the vote such that he could not win it with pledged delegates alone.

The Mondale campaign understood this, and not wanting the superdelegates to come in at the last second with a unexpected boost, they began the tradition of immediately reporting superdelegates that were converted to the press’s delegate trackers. When a delegate committed, the Mondale campaign would call news agencies and give them the name of the delegate, then the agencies would call the delegate to confirm and update their tracker.(Source)

Unfortunately Mondale reached the end of the primaries with a spate of losses to Gary Hart, including a loss in California in a close contest. While Mondale’s camp claimed the votes of the last night of primaries put him over the magic number of that year (1,967), some news outlets agreed and some didn’t. The primaries had left him with a fragile one delegate majority in the UPI tracker, and the AP tracker saw him as down a few votes. (Source)

Mondale wanted to win that night, and decisively. So he hit the phones and called the remaining unpledged superdelegates. So he made 50 calls in the space of two hours, and secured 40 additional superdelegates.(Source)

The next day, a 40 delegate lead in his back pocket, Mondale was able to claim victory.

Hart believed the fact that he had won a number of later contests (including California) might sway some superdelegates to switch, and he tried to woo them. But at the convention he was crushed, setting the precedent that has been followed each year since — the superdelegates will not overturn a delegate majority.

The paper makes the headline a tad ambiguous, but in talking about the other candidates sifting “through the ashes of their failed campaigns” affirms the notion that this is really it.

By Dukakis papers had been through the superdelegate process and covered the magic number as magic. Dukakis hits this number after the California primary. Jackson understands that Dukakis is the nominee, but want to garner as many superdelegates as he can, not to win, but to earn consideration as a vice presidential candidate

Jackson, who said he had earned consideration as a vice presidential candidate, vowed he would continue his presidential campaign until the Democratic national convention opens in Atlanta on July 18. He said he would try to persuade the remaining uncommitted “at-large” and “superdelegates” to support him.

“We’re going to keep our campaign alive to July at the convention,” he said. “(Edward) Kennedy did it in 1980, (Gary) Hart did it in 1984, I will do it in 1988.”

Jackson managed to put together a respectable second-place showing, but would be rejected by Dukakis as a vice president (Dukakis went with Lloyd “I knew Jack Kennedy” Bentsen).

Clinton clinched the nomination while Jerry Brown was still in the race, on June 2nd.

Gore went up against Bradley in 2000, but defeated Bradley handily in early races. Bradley withdrew on March 9, and by March 15 Gore had enough delegates to be declared the nominee.

By the time Kerry clinched the nomination on March 12, 2004, John Edwards had already withdrawn the previous Tuesday, leaving no rivals for Kerry. As this headline indicates, passing the magic number made Kerry the nominee.

This article does not hedge. With a combination of supers and pledged delegates putting him just over the number he needed, Obama was the nominee as of June 3rd, 2008.

Senator Barack Obama claimed the Democratic presidential nomination on Tuesday evening, prevailing through an epic battle with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in a primary campaign that inspired millions of voters from every corner of America to demand change in Washington.

A last-minute rush of Democratic superdelegates, as well as the results from the final primaries, in Montana and South Dakota, pushed Mr. Obama over the threshold of winning the 2,118 delegates needed to be nominated at the party’s convention in August. The victory for Mr. Obama, the son of a black Kenyan father and a white Kansan mother, broke racial barriers and represented a remarkable rise for a man who just four years ago served in the Illinois Senate. (Source)

Wolf Blitzer broke into a McCain speech to say that Obama had secured the nomination. Obama wins the nomination, incidentally, by losing South Dakota, but based on him even placing in that contest it was projected that he would get at least four delegates and win.

Of course, the official convention’s confirmation of that nomination would come in a dramatic fashion. As the convention roll call went through the states, they came to New York to ask what their votes were. Although the roll call votes had not nominated Obama yet, Hillary Clinton called for a suspension of regular rules and moved that in the spirit of unity Barack Obama be nominated by acclamation. It’s still one of the most simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting moments in recent convention history.

I had only become a firm party Democrat in 2004. I was not a Clinton fan, and in fact had mocked her through much of the early race. I ran an influential progressive online community, and her staff of that campaign will tell you they hated us. But watching her on the convention floor that day — it was stunning. It was when I first learned what it truly meant to be a Democrat.

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