Super Tuesday: Voters Head to Polls in Biggest-Ever One-Day White House Nominating Contest

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Voters in more than twenty-four states across the country will head to the polls in the biggest one-day White House nominating contest in history. We speak to Georgetown University Professor Stephen Wayne, author of over ten books, including The Road to the White House 2008. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s Super Tuesday. Voters in more than twenty states across the country will head to the polls in the biggest one-day White House nominating contest in history. National polls show Senator John McCain leading the Republican race, but Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is ahead in delegate-rich California. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, locked in a dead heat. With states awarding delegates proportionally instead of winner-take-all, both campaigns are telling supporters not to expect a clear winner after today’s vote.

For more, we go to Washington, D.C., on the line with Stephen Wayne, a professor of government at Georgetown University, has written over ten books, including The Road to the White House 2008


Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor Wayne. Explain how these contests today, for the Democrats, in particular, could mean no person in a clear lead. What does it mean to split the delegates rather than winner- take-all?

STEPHEN WAYNE: Well, what it means is that the Democrats allocate delegates proportional to the vote that the candidates received, and 75 percent of the delegates in any particular state are allocated in districts no larger than a congressional district. So that means if you have a district, for example, that’s primarily African American, Obama will win that, and if you have another district which is a blue-collar district where Mrs. Clinton gets the greatest support, she would win that. And both of them would probably not win it overwhelmingly, so they would split the delegates. It’s going to be very, very close.

AMY GOODMAN: And how is it for the Republicans?

STEPHEN WAYNE: Well, the Republicans are different. A number of the large Republican states — New York, New Jersey, California, Missouri — have a winner-take-all vote. And that is, in New York and New Jersey, it’s whoever gets the most votes within the state gets all the delegates, while in California, it’s winner-take-all by congressional district, most of the delegates. So that gives McCain an advantage, since he has presumably the momentum going for him.

The other interesting thing about many of the contests today is that these are what we call closed primaries. Only registered members of the party can participate. And that hurts both McCain and Obama, who have gotten a substantial portion of their vote from independents.

AMY GOODMAN: What happens to Edwards’s delegates?

STEPHEN WAYNE: Well, that depends on what Edwards says. Edwards has dropped out. Now, Edwards could in the end endorse someone, and I think he’s probably waiting for someone to get into the lead and then endorse them and ask his delegates to vote for that person. If he says nothing, the delegates can come in and vote their own conscience. And even if Edwards says “I support Barack Obama” or “I support Hillary Clinton,” that doesn’t mean he can force his delegates to vote for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. These are people who he’s picked, so presumably they’re loyal to him and to his ideas, but he can’t command them to vote for any one person.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Wayne, what’s a superdelegate?

STEPHEN WAYNE: A superdelegate — only the Democrats have superdelegates. And superdelegates are people who are delegates by virtue of their position in elective or party office. There are three members of the National Committee in each state. They’re automatically delegates. All the members of Congress, the Democrats, are delegates. Ex-presidential candidates of the Democrats are delegates. Governors are delegates. Mayors of large cities can be delegates. And the thing about these delegates, they’re not elected. They’re simply appointed, and they’re unpledged. So, formally they can vote for whomever they want.

There has been a campaign, a subterranean campaign, between Obama and Mrs. Clinton to win the hearts and souls of these delegates. And in fact, that campaign began two years ago, when both candidates, Mrs. Clinton and Obama, set up what were called leadership political action committees, which raised money and then distributed a substantial portion of this money to Democrats who were running for office.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Professor Stephen Wayne. He teaches government at Georgetown University. Professor Wayne, what is the significance of so many states? I mean, this being the largest single day in the history of this country for voting in primaries.

STEPHEN WAYNE: Well, the significance of this is twofold. One, there has been a debate over the years among political scientists and some party officials about whether it would be fairer to have a national primary. And this is really the first test of what a national primary might look like. Incidentally, the states have been opposing this, and the party leadership opposes this, so it’s something that just sort of happened by chance.

The second significance of this is that it resembles how you campaign for the general election, in that you can’t campaign in twenty-four states and go to coffeehouses and sit in living rooms like you did in Iowa, New Hampshire or, to some extent, South Carolina and Nevada. You really have to campaign by the media. To campaign with the media is very, very expensive. And it gives candidates with big war chests who have raised a lot of money and who are well known a tremendous advantage.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about Michigan and Florida for the Democrats, the fact that they buck the National Democratic Party, put their primaries ahead, and the Democratic Party says now they don’t get delegates?

STEPHEN WAYNE: Well, incidentally, they’ve been penalized, these states, by the Republican Party, as well, and their delegations have been cut in half by the Republican Party. My guess is that one of two things could happen. Either, one, if Mrs. Clinton or Barack Obama gets a lead and goes into the convention with a plurality of the votes, in the interest of party unity, they’ll vote to seat the entire delegation, which are the people who were chosen, because it won’t matter. If it did matter and we went into the convention without a candidate having a lead, there would be a fight over the credentials of those delegates, somewhat like the fight we had in 1952 between Eisenhower delegates and Taft delegates at the Republican Convention, and the convention would have to decide then whether to overturn the Democratic Party’s National Committee rule and seat the delegates or not seat them.

Now, these states can still be seated at the convention if they conduct a caucus, which accords with Democratic rules, so they could, in fact, in June conduct a caucus, maybe even elect the same delegates, and they would be in accord with the party rules. But they’re not going to — the Democrats say, we will not seat delegates who are selected in a method or on a schedule that violates the party’s rules.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Wayne, if there is no clear Democratic winner today, what state becomes most important after this day of primaries and caucuses?

STEPHEN WAYNE: Well, that’s very, very hard to say. Next week, you’re going to have the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland voting. And in subsequent weeks, big states such as Texas and Pennsylvania will be voting. And the most important states are the ones with the most delegates at stake, because up ’til this point, the name of the game was who got the most votes. At this point, the name of the game changes to who has the most delegates. And that should be what the media report on tonight. Don’t worry about who wins and who loses. The candidates have enough of a national reputation. Look at the delegate count to see who’s ahead and by how much.

AMY GOODMAN: And in Nevada, for example, the fact that — was it Obama who won more delegates, but they say Hillary Clinton actually won?

STEPHEN WAYNE: Well, Hillary Clinton got more votes, but Obama got more delegates. And the Obama people are very angry that the press emphasized the popular vote victory, when in fact they were competing for delegates. But, you know, the press emphasizes what the press wants to emphasize, and one of the areas that the press always emphasizes is the horse race. And, believe it or not, we’re going to have two super bowls the same week.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, the National Popular Vote movement, can you explain that?

STEPHEN WAYNE: There are a lot of people who get upset that we don’t elect our president by a direct popular vote, but by an indirect popular vote aggregated by states, in most cases on a winner-take-all system, so there have been proposals, which were renewed again after George W. Bush’s victory, even though he didn’t have the most popular votes in 2000. Now, in order to change the Electoral College, you have to amend the Constitution. There are some states who feel that the winner-take-all system or the fact that they have three electoral votes, because they have two senators, even though they’re a very small state, gives them an advantage. So there doesn’t seem to be enough votes out there to get two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the states to amend the Constitution.

So what is going on now is a deal, an interstate compact where state legislatures would pass a law that says when a majority of the states buy into this compact, we will force our electors to vote for the national popular choice winner, as opposed to the state popular choice winner. Two state legislatures, California and Maryland, passed this law, but Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed it. So only one state thus far has agreed to the compact. And until a majority of the states — a majority of the states with electoral votes agree to it, it will not go into effect.

AMY GOODMAN: Though I said “finally,” here’s my “finally”: What about the voting machines around this country that are supposedly tabulating the vote today?

STEPHEN WAYNE: Well, you know, we’ve always had problems with machines, and we’ve had problems with counting paper ballots. There seems to be a lot of nervousness about the machines where you touch the face of the machine to record your vote. Some states are now requiring what they call a paper trail, so if it looks like the machine count differs from what they expect the popular count to differ for, they would be able to check it by looking at the ballots. The Diebold company which makes these machines has said that the machines are accurate and work well. The state of California says they have not been, and Maryland, too. So this is one of those open questions. And I suspect, in some cases, the loser will point to the machines and say, “The machines did it, not me.”

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Stephen Wayne, I want to thank you for being with us, teaches government at Georgetown University. His book is called The Road to the White House 2008.

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