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For 2020, Hill's Democrats won't be so super

David Hawkings, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Does it make sense to tell the folks responsible for bringing the tribe back to the Promised Land that they're losing some of their clout to help keep it there?

That's one way of phrasing the question the Democratic National Committee has started to answer in recent days.

The topic is the so-called superdelegates to the presidential nominating conventions, who include every one of the party's members of Congress. And momentum is growing strong to effectively eliminate their formalized role in deciding the national ticket.

The party's grand plan for restoration of control over the policymaking branches of the federal government begins, of course, with the midterm elections. Taking back the House and maybe the Senate, too, is the best possible jump start to taking back the White House two years from now -- along with an expected surge in the roster of Democratic governors, another category of superdelegate, from 16 to as many as 22.

All the Democrats who win in November will have empirical proof they understand what it takes to be electable -- if not nationwide, then at least among their own constituents. They'll have as good a claim as anyone to understanding where the country wants to be headed as the next decade arrives. And for the next two years, they'll be among the most prominent manifestations of what it means to be a member of the Democratic Party in the time of President Donald Trump.

If the keys to all or even half the Capitol is the reward, of course, it will be thanks to a solid clutch of incoming lawmakers who figured out how to transform their red swatches of the country into blue.

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The argument is strong that politicians who have proven they can expand the electoral map are the very sorts of people who should be given a seat at the table -- although not dispositive power, to be sure -- when a political party is making a decision that comes up for review just once in four years. And so it has been for the Democrats for the previous nine presidential nominating cycles, since 1984.

But that seems destined to change. Over loud protests from some veteran members of Congress, last weekend the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee pressed forward with a plan that would prevent superdelegates from casting meaningful votes on the first presidential nominating ballot at the convention in the summer of 2020.

Instead, their votes would count only if the outcome was already decided by the pledged delegates -- similar to the way the Democrats, when they last ran the House a decade ago, permitted the delegates from U.S. territories to cast votes on the floor only if their positions did not alter the result.

Under the new system, which could still get altered in the coming weeks, the party insiders would have a formal hand in finding a solution only if there's a first ballot deadlock. But such a prospect seems theoretical at best; brokered conventions get predicted all the time, but the Democratic gathering of 1952 was the last to require more than a single ballot.

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