Every news organization, have it be the Associated Press, or CBS News, or NBC, or the New York Times, has their own calculation of the delegate fight between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Some of the discrepancy is because somehow many of the states that have already voted have yet to finish allocating their delegates, many from states Barack Obama won, like Colorado and Illinois, and even Senator Clinton's win from California has yet to be fully reported. New Mexico hasn't even figured out who won that state's popular vote yet, and they voted over a week ago. But, the big reason why CBS News has Obama winning the delegate race 1134-1131 while most other news organizations have Clinton slightly ahead is because these networks are counting these uncommitted Super Delegates. No network has the same list of supposedly pledged Super Delegates and even 2008 Democratic Convention Watch an invaluable blog covering these Super Delegates is having a hard time keeping it straight. Tonight the site posted an "Ultimate Delegate Tracker" which showed that none of the major news networks can arrive at anywhere near a consensus on whose up and whose down. All they can agree on, apparently, is that it's close. Barack Obama's official "Results Center has him leading 1031-944, but that doesn't include the Super Delegates, and it includes projections of delegate allocations which the news networks have not yet added into their tallies.
The biggest problem, though, is the networks shouldn't be counting the Super Delegates at all in their reporting. And I'm not just saying that because currently Senator Clinton has anywhere from a 75-100 lead among those Super Delegates (almost mirroring Obama's lead in the pledged delegates). First, the media has been talking about how if Barack Obama wins the most pledged delegates, but loses the nomination fight because of these Super Delegates, the party will fracture. And that's probably right, but only if people understand that the election is being taken away from him. By reporting the inflated Super Delegate numbers, it appears Obama has been fighting from behind, when in truth, he's never trailed among pledged delegates. He started ahead in Iowa, and has never trailed, not one day of this primary campaign.
But the real reason I have such a problem with counting Super Delegates is they are uncommitted and change their mind at any time, for any reason. Tuesday's New York Times has a story about how Hillary Clinton supporters believe she must win both Texas and Ohio on March 4th to remain a viable candidate. And it quotes some of her Super Delegates as considering bolting and moving their support to Barack Obama.
“She has to win both Ohio and Texas comfortably, or she’s out,” said one superdelegate who has endorsed Mrs. Clinton, and who spoke on condition of anonymity to share a candid assessment. “The campaign is starting to come to terms with that.” Campaign advisers, also speaking privately in order to speak plainly, confirmed this view.
Several Clinton superdelegates, whose votes could help decide the nomination, said Monday that they were wavering in the face of Mr. Obama’s momentum after victories in Washington State, Nebraska, Louisiana and Maine last weekend.
Some said that they, like the hundreds of uncommitted superdelegates still at stake, might ultimately “go with the flow,” in the words of one, and support the candidate who appears to show the most strength in the primaries to come.
These Super Delegates are so uncommitted and so free to change their minds at any time, there is no credibility in any tally of Super Delegates. Just because Super Delegate X tells NBC she's supporting Hillary Clinton on Monday doesn't mean she won't tell CNN she's supporting Barack Obama on Wednesday and tell the Associated Press she's undecided on Friday. There's a reason these numbers aren't consistent, because the Super Delegates themselves have no obligation to be consistent, and can change their mind up until they vote (if they do) at the Democratic Convention.
So to keep reporting this facade of Super Delegate support, which at best is a rough estimate subject to wild swings in support, and at worst is a misleading total which causes average observers to believe in a lead which is only on paper, and which isn't inductive of anything other than how the morning went for any particular Super Delegate, is pretty irresponsible. Reporting on the Super Delegates is necessary, and important, but to include them in the totals which news networks report as the current delegate count isn't right, especially given these comments in the New York Times that the delegates aren't even fully committed to the candidate they claim they are for. NBC News does not include Super Delegates in their calculations (their current count is Obama 959, Clinton 905) and other networks should follow their lead.
And a quick aside, how impressive is Michelle Obama? A lights-out performance on Larry King tonight, showing that she's every bit as smooth and solid as her husband is, if not more-so. As Clinton supporter Paul Begala said afterwards, Obama should be wearing a "I'm Michelle's husband" button when he campaigns. You really get the feeling like we saw in the 1990s with Hillary Clinton, if Michelle wanted a future in politics, it would suit here just as well as it does Barack.