Parsing the Delegates

In Newsweek , Hillary Clinton answers the question that’s on all our minds:

How can you win the nomination when the math looks so bleak for you?

It doesn’t look bleak at all. I have a very close race with Senator Obama. There are elected delegates, caucus delegates and superdelegates, all for different reasons, and they’re all equal in their ability to cast their vote for whomever they choose. Even elected and caucus delegates are not required to stay with whomever they are pledged to. This is a very carefully constructed process that goes back years, and we’re going to follow the process.  

Most striking is her suggestion that pledged delegates don’t have to stick with whomever they’re pledged to. While it’s true that they can change their minds, her campaign has denied putting pressure on pledged delegates to switch sides. Clinton spokesman Phil Singer reassured Politico ’s Ben Smith that there was “no change” to the campaign’s stance on this front, despite reports that they were pursuing them.

Also, note Clinton’s use of the word elected rather than pledged delegates. This suggests yet another rhetorical shift, as if to emphasize her point that they aren’t actually forced to vote for the candidate they’re pledged to. A few weeks ago, the campaign suddenly started referring to superdelegates as “automatic delegates” (Hillary apparently dropped the phrasing in this interview), presumably to downplay the notion that there’s anything “super” or superior about the party leaders and elected officials who could decide the nomination. The “elected” switch seems to spring from the same logic—that renaming delegates will change perception of them.

Even weirder is Clinton’s distinction between “elected delegates” and “caucus delegates.” Both types of delegate are effectively the same—they get one vote to help decide the nomination. (One difference: Some caucus delegates won’t be selected until state conventions this summer.) But Clinton’s wording implies that “caucus delegates” are not “elected”—a clear jab at Obama’s strength in the caucus states. Plus, it makes room for the campaign to separate the two numbers. If Clinton started referring to the “pledged delegate” count without counting caucuses, she would be ahead of Obama by that count. That, if it happens, would be a crazy reversal: First, Clinton was insisting on conflating pledged and superdelegates. Now she wants to parse them out as finely as possible. Watch “linguistics consultant” become a full-time campaign position.