Dean's deceiving delegate count


Geraldine Sealey
January 31, 2004 12:43AM (UTC)

In the rollercoaster ride that has been Howard Dean's candidacy, his supporters have found many reasons to be incensed with the national media. Their candidate has gone from being depicted as angry and gaffe-prone, then lampooned as a maniacal screamer, and now, written off as a has-been. But, what's this? Howard Dean is actually ahead in the delegate count? If you check out CNN's delegate scorcard, as many Deaniacs have been, you'll see Howard Dean indeed leads John Kerry in the only count that matters -- the delegate tally.

The topic is being hashed out on Dean blogs, with some bloggers seeing another anti-Dean plot by Big Media in the lack of attention to his success with delegates. (We've gotten letters, too.) Other bloggers are trying to clear up the confusion with an explanation of how the complex delegate selection process works.

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Indeed, the delegate count process is quite complicated, but let's try to understand what's going on here. The Democratic party gives a certain number of delegates to each state based on population and how many votes the Democratic candidate received in the last general election. Then, and this is key, the party allots additional unpledged delegates or "superdelegates," who are establishment types like party leaders, elected officials and Democratic members of Congress.

Of the 4,321 total Democratic delegates, 801 are "superdelegates." CNN includes "superdelegates" in their delegate count, and got their preferences from interviewing them or reading public statements. Early on, Howard Dean was doing well with this group. But as CBS explains in its delegate update: "The (super)delegates are not bound and can always change their minds. If their original choice does poorly or drops out they are free to pick another candidate."

So, the bottom line is, while Dean is currently ahead in various tallies of pledged and unpledged delegates, the count will change once more states hold primaries, as seven will on Tuesday, and more superdelegates publicly state their preferences or change their minds.


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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