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Pledged Delegates, Again

Back on February 19, Politico's Roger Simon reported that "Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign intends to go after delegates whom Barack Obama has already won in the caucuses and primaries if she needs them to win the nomination." Clinton spokesperson Phil Singer (who had been cited in Simon's piece) immediately responded that "We have not, are not and will not pursue the pledged delegates of Barack Obama." 

Fine. But on March 5, out of the blue, Clinton adviser Harold Ickes brought up the fact that pledged delegates aren't legally bound to vote for the candidate they're pledged to. And in an interview in the March 17 issue of Newsweek, Hillary Clinton pointed out that "Even elected and caucus delegates are not required to stay with whomever they are pledged to."

Yesterday, in a meeting with the editorial board of the Daily News, Clinton raised the issue once again and went somewhat further: "And also remember that pledged delegates in most states are not pledged. You know there is no requirement that anybody vote for anybody. They're just like superdelegates." This is all a bit of a stretch: Pledged delegates are "pledged" (hence the name), though it's true there is no legal bar to their switching sides. And they're not "just like" superdelegates: They are expected to vote for the candidate they are pledged to, and there would be a justifiable outcry if, in any number, they chose not to.

The larger question, of course, is why the Clinton campaign keeps going out of its way to raise this point even after they have explicitly, and adamantly, claimed they have no intention of going after Barack Obam's pledged delegates. The simplest answer would be that they actually do intend some kind of full-court press to persuade Obama's pledged delegates to switch. But this seems pretty unlikely: First off, pledged delegates are selected from the most committed of a candidate's supporters and any effort to persuade them to change sides would almost certainly be doomed to failure; and second, if the Clinton team did this, it would be widely seen as an effort to hijack the election and would likely do irrevocable damage to the party.

It's possible, I suppose, that the Clinton campaign quietly hopes that something will happen to Obama, with or without their help, that will render him so radioactive and obviously unelectable that even his pledged delegates will flip. But this seems unlikely, too: In such an event, the superdelegates would presumably abandon Obama anyway, rendering any movement by pledged delegates moot.

So why does the Clinton campaign keep bringing this up? I think the best, perhaps only, explanation is Josh Marshall's "fog of nonsense" thesis: By repeatedly raising the possibility of pledged delegates flipping (and getting people discussing improbable scenarios such as the above), they muddy the waters. They make it seem possible that the delegate math isn't as incotrovertibly against them as it is, that something might change, that it's still early in the race, that "anybody can vote for anybody," that nobody knows anything. 

Nonsense indeed.

--Christopher Orr