What Happens to Edwards’ delegates?

Sixty-one are up for grabs.

On Wednesday, John Edwards surprised pundits by announcing he was dropping out of the 2008 Democratic presidential race. So what happens to his 61 hard-earned delegates? In this article from the election season of 2004, Brendan I. Koerner answered a similar question about the end of retired Gen. Wesley Clark’s bid for the White House.

After finishing a distant third in both the Virginia and Tennessee primaries, Wesley K. Clark is quitting the presidential race. At this July’s Democratic Convention, what’s going to happen to the 102 delegates that Clark garnered during his run?

The bulk of them will likely shift their loyalties to the eventual nominee. Contrary to popular belief, delegates at the convention aren’t technically bound to support the candidate voters asked them to back. In the case of delegates pledged to candidates still in the race, it’s theoretically possible that a rebel could decide to cast off his or her marching orders and vote for somebody else at the convention. But this doesn’t happen in practice: Delegates, after all, are chosen because they’re supporters of a particular candidate, and a last-minute change of heart is unlikely, especially since such a move would amount to political suicide for the delegate. Delegates committed to drop-outs, on the other hand, are free to shift their allegiances however they please. In 2000, for example, the vast majority of delegates initially won by Bill Bradley ended up going for Al Gore on the convention floor.

Of the 102 Clark delegates, 34 are so-called superdelegates, whose preferences aren’t dictated by the primaries. (Click here for Explainer’s take on superdelegates.) The remaining 68 are known as pledged delegates, and they’re the ones who are supposed to reflect the choice made by voters. Now that Clark’s no longer in the mix, some of them may continue to back the former general at the convention. Others, however, may simply throw their support behind John Kerry or John Edwards. A lot depends on Clark—it’s possible that he’ll decide to endorse one of the remaining candidates and instruct his delegates to do the same. Again, the delegates aren’t bound to obey this command, but those who take their democratic duties seriously may very well do so.

The Democratic National Committee, at least, seems convinced that Clark’s delegates will end up in the nominee’s corner. According to a DNC spokesman, “We’re really going to be standing together to defeat Bush.”