WASHINGTON — For Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, it's not necessarily about who wins or who loses Democratic presidential primaries anymore. It's about winning delegates.
For the candidates, delegates are gold. Whoever has a majority of them will become the Democratic presidential nominee.
Wrong. In a process chock-full of delegates, "super delegates," disputed delegates in two states and delegates being held on to by former candidates, mapping the road to the nomination isn't as easy as tallying who has the magic 2,025 delegate votes needed to win.
While the Republican primary and caucus process is relatively straightforward with no "super delegates" and several winner-take-all primary contests, the Democratic Party's system isn't.
Here's a guide to help navigate the complicated and evolving delegate-selection process:
WHO'S AHEAD IN THE DELEGATE COUNT?
There is no precise answer because the party, the candidates and the states are still counting. However, according to the Associated Press, Clinton leads with 1,045 delegates, followed by Obama with 960 and former North Carolina Sen. Edwards with 26.
HOW MANY DELEGATES WILL ATTEND THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION IN DENVER?
There will be 4,070 delegates at the convention. They'll cast a total of 4,049 votes. That's because delegates from American Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands and Democrats Abroad — an international organization — receive fractional votes. It will take 2,025 delegate votes to secure the nomination. This excludes delegates from Florida and Michigan, which the Democratic National Committee penalized for moving up the dates of their presidential primaries.
ARE THERE DIFFERENT TYPES OF DEMOCRATIC DELEGATES?
There are three kinds:
- There are 3,253 "pledged" delegates to be won in primaries and caucuses; they account for 80 percent of convention delegates. They're elected at the congressional district level and statewide. Presidential candidates must get at least 15 percent of the vote in a congressional district or statewide to win any delegates, and if they do, they get a number of delegates in each district that's proportional to their share of the vote.
Pledged delegates are pledged in name only. Under party rules, they aren't bound to support the candidates they're supposed to vote for. Democratic National Committee rules say that delegates are pledged "in all good conscience (to) reflect the sentiments of those who elected them."
- There are 796 unpledged "super delegates." These generally are party officials: governors, members of Congress or Democratic National Committee members. They aren't bound to specific candidates even after they endorse them. Candidates lobby them for support long before the convention, and pressure them to switch if they've committed to rivals.
"For example, a candidate might say, 'I know (New Jersey Sen.) Bob Menendez is a super delegate and I know I can go to him and try and get his support,' " said Karen Finney, a Democratic National Committee spokeswoman. (Menendez backs Clinton.)
- Finally, there are "pledged party leaders and elected official" delegates, who're elected in proportion to the statewide vote. These delegates are usually Democratic Party notables: big-city mayors, state legislators, county and local party leaders.
WILL DELEGATES FROM FLORIDA AND MICHIGAN BE SEATED AT THE CONVENTION?
The Democratic National Committee stripped Florida and Michigan of their delegates for moving up their primary dates. Democratic presidential candidates agreed not to campaign in either state, making their primaries beauty contests that Clinton won. She now wants the delegates reinstated.
DNC spokeswoman Finney said that Florida and Michigan could take two routes to get their delegates reinstated:
- They each can hold delegate-selection caucuses approved by the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee. The results of the caucuses would be binding.
- They each can have the dispute resolved by the Convention Credentials Committee. DNC Chairman Howard Dean appoints 25 members, and 157 are allocated to states based on population and Democratic voting strength. Four members are allocated to represent American Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands and Democrats Abroad, with each casting \ vote. Once each state's delegates are selected, they meet to select that state's committee members.
Finney said that if the credentials committee decided to accept the Florida and Michigan delegates, it didn't have to award delegates based on the primaries' results.
In Florida, state party officials say they're reluctant to call for a caucus and tell Democratic voters who turned out massively for the state's primary Jan. 29 that their votes didn't count and the state will have a do-over.
"I've got to respect 1.7 million Democrats," said "super delegate" Jon Ausman of Tallahassee. "If you had a caucus now, you might draw 100,000 people at the most."
Mark Brewer, the chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said his state would appeal to the credentials committee to get its delegates seated.
WHAT ABOUT EDWARDS' DELEGATES?
Edwards suspended his campaign instead of withdrawing from the race. By doing so, he retained all his delegates, according to Finney. If Edwards withdraws, he still can keep his district-level delegates. But if he withdraws before at-large and "pledged party leaders and elected official" delegates are chosen, those delegates will be divided between Clinton and Obama. If Edwards keeps his campaign suspended but endorses Clinton or Obama, his delegates are free to vote for other candidates, Democratic Party officials said. He can't direct them to vote for another candidate of his choosing.