Deciphering the Delegate System Both the Republican and Democratic presidential races are very competitive and as candidates scramble for delegates, they are turning state-by-state campaigns into congressional district-by-congressional district campaigns.
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Deciphering the Delegate System

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We long thought that the presidential nominations in both parties would be wrapped up a week from tomorrow on Super Tuesday. But with no clear front-runner in either party, the 2008 presidential nominating process now looks like it could be a long struggle to be decided not by opinion polls or even by primary victories, but by numbers of delegates. This is an arcane science that's just about atrophied from lack of use. Delegate counts last mattered on the Democratic side in 1984; we have to go back to 1976 to find a Republican campaign where opponents angled for votes on the convention floor.

So what is war of attrition? How does it change the campaign? Who does it favor? And how does it work? If you want to know more about how delegates are chosen or if you've been a delegate, give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail us talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog, that's at npr.org/blogofthenation.

And later, Kay Hymowitz joins us on the Opinion Page this week to talk about pop culture and the increased length of male adolescence.

But first, as Senator Barack Obama shouted to a group of his supporters this weekend: It's about the delegates.

Anna Greenberg is a partner with Greenberg Quinlan and Rosner, a Democratic political consulting firm. She's worked for the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. This year, her firm did polling for Chris Dodd's presidential campaign - the senator has, of course, since dropped out. And Anna Greenberg is not affiliated at the moment with any candidate.

Ms. ANNA GREENBERG (Vice President, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner): That's right.

CONAN: Nice to have you back on the program.

Ms. GREENBERG: Thank you, nice to be here.

CONAN: Vin Weber is a Republican strategist and lobbyist and a former Republican member of the House of Representatives from Minnesota. He's an unpaid policy adviser to Mitt Romney.

And thanks very much for coming in.

Mr. VIN WEBER (Republican Strategist and Lobbyist; Former Minnesota Representative): Great to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And, Anna, if the currency of this campaign is delegates, how does the tally stand among the delegates - the Democrats right now?

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, it really depends on how you count. If you…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GREENBERG: Let's probably look at - it's (unintelligible) run the entire time we're here today. If you look purely at the states that have already had their primary caucuses, right now Obama leads the delegate count with 63, Clinton at 48, Edwards, 26. However, there's something called super delegates on the Democratic side and these are elected officials - House, Senate, governors, party officials - and they actually comprise a significant percentage of the delegates at the convention. They can pledge themselves to individual candidates.

If you look at the count that includes super delegates, Clinton is leading. I've seen different - you know, Web sites have different, you know, approximations of it, but it's somewhere around 230 or 40 for Clinton and somewhere around 150, 180 for Obama, and somewhere between 50 and 60 for Edwards.

CONAN: Now, these super delegates, they can make the decision themselves, they don't have to ask anybody; they can also presumably change their minds.

Ms. GREENBERG: Absolutely. And if there is a presumptive nominee towards - as we get towards the convention, it wouldn't be a surprise if some of the super delegates switch their vote.

CONAN: We've also seen, for example, after the Nevada caucuses they were saying, well, the delegates - the number of delegates may be more for Obama than, in fact, Clinton, who won the popular vote in Nevada. So in the caucus states, delegates aren't actually apportioned until much later in the process.

Ms. GREENBERG: That's right. But what - the important point here is that you can win the popular vote in a state and not win the majority of delegates and that's because it's apportioned by congressional district. So you can get a ton of votes out of Los Angeles, for example, but if the other candidate gets more, you know, gets the majority in more congressional districts, you could have more votes but get fewer delegates.

CONAN: And, Vin Weber, on the Republican side, who's now ahead in the delegate count?

Mr. WEBER: Well, Mitt Romney, has actually - my candidate, disclaimer, I'm supporting Governor Romney. I'm not neutral in this, but I'll try to be objective. Governor Romney has actually led Senator McCain in the delegate race throughout. We have not had a lot of delegates chosen yet; that's going to begin to change fairly rapidly tomorrow and then, of course, dramatically on February 5th.

But Governor Romney started out winning virtually all the delegates in Wyoming by winning that small state's caucuses and he came in second in Iowa, where Senator McCain didn't really compete, second to Governor Huckabee, who won the most delegates there. So he's actually in first place. But Florida is a winner state - is a winner-take-all state. We have - one of the differences between Republicans and Democrats is the Democrats are all proportional representation, essential meaning if you get a significant number of votes, you're going to get some delegates even if you don't win. Republicans still have some winner-take-all states, and Florida is one of them.

CONAN: And do Republicans have superdelegates, too?

Mr. WEBER: No, we don't have super delegates on the Republican side. There will probably be a lot of the same people that end up becoming delegates because they'll get elected at their - through their congressional districts or states, but we don't have super delegates.

CONAN: And talking as a campaign strategist, Anna Greenberg, how does this change the campaign? All of a sudden, you have - even very well-endowed candidates have limited resources. You've got, what, 24 states ready to vote a week from tomorrow. What do you do?

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, it's an interesting question because in - if you think about it, traditionally, you would target your media buy, for example, in the places where you find the most votes. Well, again, going back to the point I made earlier about the fact this is apportioned by congressional districts, there could be parts of the state that don't have a lot of voters, but if you can win those congressional districts, then you can win more delegates than the person who wins the more populist part of state. So you have to think about distributing your media buy much more broadly.

What I think it's going to mean is that at least on the Democratic side there's going to be a lot more reliance on grassroots, on volunteers, on people getting people out to vote because they have to fight this in every precinct in every C.D. no matter how many voters there are in these different places.

CONAN: So as opposed to media as a - even as opposed to fundraising, organizational strength is emphasized.

Ms. GREENBERG: Absolutely, and that's a big part of the story for South Carolina for sure.

CONAN: Vin Weber, same thing on the Republican side?

Mr. WEBER: Yeah, pretty much. One of the things I noticed in doing just a cursory of survey of the states that are coming up - and I hope I didn't get this wrong, but there are - first of all, there are a lot of winner-take-all states on the Republican side on February 5th, big states like New York and New Jersey.

CONAN: So media might matter a lot.

Mr. WEBER: Media matters a lot. However, if as we're sort of presuming in this conversation the race goes on beyond February 5th, by my cursory review, there's only a couple of relatively smaller states on the Republican side that are winner take all after February 5th - Massachusetts and Vermont. So, after February 5th, we're more or less in the same position as the Democrats are -which is, you know, every state offers at least the potential of some delegates to every candidate.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners involved in this conversation. Our guests, again, Vin Weber, who you just heard, a former Republican member of the House of Representatives from Minnesota, now a Republican strategist who's advising the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney. Also with us is Anna Greenberg, who's worked on the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton in 1992, Al Gore in 2000 and Chris Dodd in 2008. She's with us here. And if you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255, e-mail talk@npr.org.

And let's start with Jacob(ph). Jacob is with us from New York City.

JACOB (Caller): Hi. I just had two quick questions and I'll take my answer off the phone. First is, what is this delegate vote going to mean for all of the people and what their vote is and what they want? And secondly, you keep mentioning delegates and superdelegates, what's the difference between the two and how important is a delegate vote to the system?

CONAN: Okay. Anna, these are - go ahead, Vin.

Mr. WEBER: Well, can I take the first part of that, because I wanted to inject the point of history that sort of goes to the caller's question - how do these delegates who were selected relate to the preferences of the voters. And one of the differences between the system now and the system in the past, besides the fact that this is the first potentially tested convention we're going to have for a long time, is this will probably be the first set of contested conventions in which most all of the delegates, the large percentage of delegates, were chosen by primaries. I like to site this example from a candidate from my home state.

In 1968, the incumbent vice president of the United States, Hubert Humphrey, the eventual Democrat nominee, chose not to run in the primaries. Now, you think about that, that's not too long ago in terms of all of American history. But delegates were primarily not chosen through primaries at that time; they were chosen through caucuses and legislative caucuses.

CONAN: And smoke-filled rooms.

Mr. WEBER: Smoke-filled rooms and things like that. Well, we've had a huge revolution since that period of time and today this gets to the caller's question. Most places, the delegates are chosen by some process, at least, that relates to the will of the people and the party - more directly through a primary, a smaller number through a caucus, but not really the smoke-filled rooms that we saw throughout most of American history prior to that time.

CONAN: And, Anna, the super delegate question?

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, I just want to follow up on that answer, though. One of the interesting things is that four years ago, the Democratic Party frontloaded its primaries because they wanted to have a nominee early. And so, you had John Kerry, basically the presumptive nominee after New Hampshire. And there was a pushback against that because it was believed these were un-diverse states and you didn't have a diverse number of Democratic voters participating in the process.

Now, what's interesting is that we have this frontloaded primary, but you have a huge range of different kind of states participating, which means a huge range of different kinds of voters, which actually makes it a much more democratic process, if you will. On the second question, super delegates are members of Congress, House and Senate, governors, certain party officials, member of the Democratic National committee. They are about 700 of the votes. So, it's a pretty significant percentage. Overall, there are 4,049 delegates in the Democratic convention and you need to 2,025 to win. So, about 700 delegates is actually a pretty significant percentage.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in. This is Kathleen(ph). Kathleen from Charleston, South Carolina.

KATHLEEN (Caller): Yeah, hi. I was down here for the primary and - can you tell me how you think - I mean, I really don't understand what purpose this, the delegate process serves. And also, like, say, Senator Edwards, how do you think he'll play his delegate card out at the convention? I mean, how much power do you have there with how many delegates you have. And then my other observation down here over the last week was, I just think Obama seems to be getting a free pass in regard to some of his advertising down here in the South, which I didn't hear up North, where I feel strongly that he's playing the race card. And I think some of the things that Clinton said were on target, and I think there was a lot of Bill-bashing this weekend instead of looking at the - I think people should really pay attention to some of the advertising that's taking place down here.

CONAN: And we will pay attention to it, Kathleen, on another show. But we're talking about delegates today. And on the first part of her question, why did they matter, well, they matter as soon as the roll call starts, Alabama; and Alabama casts this many votes for this person and that many votes for another.

Mr. WEBER: But it's not a bad question given the historical memory that most of us have. That's what we're talking about on this program because in the past, you know, somebody would win New Hampshire and then they'd go on to win another primary or two, and the news media and political pundits and party leaders would all conclude, well, that candidate's the nominee. And the delegates weren't really - they ultimately had to vote, yeah, but it was rubber-stamping a decision that was made because we sort of took the results of those early primaries as being conclusive. It matter this time because the premise of our program today is that that's not going to happen.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. WEBER: That - and if you look at the process up to now, we all thought, well, Iowa would be sort of dispositive and it really wasn't. I mean, it was a big win for Obama, a big win for Huckabee, but, you know, Obama is behind the delegate count today and Huckabee's way behind. Then we thought New Hampshire would be dispositive. Great victory for Senator Clinton; she's back on her way. Not dispositive. Barack Obama still looks very much in the race to me. Senator McCain won, was a great victory for McCain, but he's in a neck-and-neck race with my candidate, Governor Romney. That's not the way it happened in the past. In the past, we usually saw these things settled out very early on, and who the delegates were didn't really matter that much. Different this time.

CONAN: And when we come back, we'll discuss the other part of Kathleen's question. What the third candidate or in the Republican side, third and fourth candidates, Huckabee and perhaps Giuliani. On the Democratic side, John Edwards. What they might do with their delegates at a convention, should it come to that. We'll also explain why some delegates count and others don't.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

The presidential races for both the Democrats and the GOP are so competitive this year that candidates are scrambling for delegates to win their votes on the convention floor come late next summer, and it's changing the way they campaign now. We're going to be talking with a real-live delegate - indeed, a super delegate, in just a moment - and talk about why some delegate counts may matter and others may not. We're also going to answer a question that Kathleen gave us just before the break about, well, just how long are delegates committed to vote for whomever they're committed to vote for.

If you have questions or if you've been delegate, give us a call. 800-989-8255, e-mail us, talk@npr.org. And you can read what other listeners have to say on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

And, Anna Greenberg, on Kathleen's question, if Senator Edwards already has some delegates - if he goes into the convention in Denver with a bunch of delegates but many fewer than either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton, what does he do with those delegates?

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, it's sort of up to him. He can negotiate with whoever the potential nominee might be for something in exchange, I don't know what that would be. But I think, really, we have to wait and see how many delegates he's going to have. He has to get above 15 percent to actually get awarded any delegates as he moves forward, and it may be that he becomes more and more marginalized. So, we'll have to see how many he really has.

CONAN: And the same thing on the Republican side with, perhaps, Giuliani and perhaps Mike Huckabee.

Mr. WEBER: Perhaps. Let me add a couple of points, though. First of all, it does differ from state to state. Some states bind their delegates. You know, you have to vote for this candidate on ballot number one, that's what it usually says, not after that. And some states don't. Second point I would make is that although they may be committed or bound to a candidate, they're certainly not bound to follow that candidate's direction if he or she should tell them to go somewhere else.

They - so a candidate can presume to bargain his own delegates, but he's got to make sure they're going to do what he says. Finally, we haven't been through this for a long time. I'm not an attorney, but I've heard over the years from my attorney friends, this whole notion that the states can bind their delegates at the convention is at least subject to some question legally. If we have contested nominations on the floors or either of these conventions, you could well see legal challenges to the standing of some delegates based on the ability to bind the delegates on that first vote.

Ms. GREENBERG: One thing I would add is that - I mean, what happens is, delegates run as a slate for the different candidates. And as I understand it, if a candidate believes a delegate is not a sure thing, they can replace that delegate on the slate.

CONAN: Okay. So - but on the Democratic side, they're also committed to their candidate for one ballot?

Ms. GREENBERG: Right.

CONAN: Okay. Joining us now from her office in Washington is Debbie Dingell, a member of the Michigan Democratic Party, a leading supporter of the idea of moving the Michigan primary up earlier in the nominating process, a decision that has cost her state its delegates to the convention this summer, at least so far. Debbie Dingell, nice to have you on the program.

Ms. DEBBIE DINGELL (Member, Michigan Democratic Party): Thanks, nice to be with you, Neal, and everybody else.

Mr. WEBER: Hi, Debbie.

Ms. GREENBERG: Hi there.

Ms. DINGELL: Hi there.

CONAN: And Michigan would normally get 156 Democratic delegates, but because of that decision to move up the primary in violation of party rules, at this point, do you think they're going to be seated in the end?

Ms. DINGELL: I think that everybody - it's sort of been the common wisdom. Even uttered by the chair of the party quietly when he's visited the state, that ultimately, he thought that the candidates would seat us. I must admit that I've always thought that and continue to think that, but do get a little nervous as I wonder if this really comes down to a fight at the floor - which, actually, I would welcome. Because then, this isn't about our fight. It's not about moving Michigan up permanently. We're about no one state should have a lock on going first, and that it's something that should be rotated in every state, should have the opportunity to see the candidates the way that New Hampshire and Iowa do, during the four-year cycle.

CONAN: And Michigan is a more diverse state, a different kind of state, is a manufacturing state, among other things, who thought it had real good call to have an early primary in Michigan. Nonetheless, party rules are party rules. Anna Greenberg, is the party going to enforce here, do you think?

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, I have no idea, obviously, but I do think that if - going into the convention, it's not clear who the nominee is going to be, it's going to be very difficult. Given that the three major candidates all agreed to not campaign in both Michigan and Florida, I believe it would be difficult to seat them if it's going to be a brokered convention.

Mr. WEBER: The presumption, I should say, on both of the parties was, very early on, that this going to be a moot point because they presumed that the nominee would be chosen well before the convention, at which point the convention officials would simply ask the nominee, how would you like to handle this? They'd, of course, say, we're going to seat everybody because they don't want to insult any delegate, any state. And that it would be a non-issue by the time they got to the convention. But now, if we're saying there's a possibility that the races will not be resolved, we have sort of a horror story from the parties in that you could have fights over the seating of delegates and bruised egos and home state loyalties broken and things like that.

Ms. DINGELL: And we will - let me make this very clear. Both Michigan and Florida will take a fight to the floor about whether we should be seated or not, which for us, will immediately call the question of the Iowa, New Hampshire issue. So it's not what anybody's looking for, quite frankly, for there to be an immediate floor fight on this, but there will be one; and we will fight. The candidate is not running for president of two states, the candidate is running for president of all 50 states. And two of your top four most likely marginal states in this next year's election are Michigan and Florida.

CONAN: Let's get Todd(ph) on line. Todd, with us from Detroit, in Michigan.

TODD (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Hi, Todd. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

TODD: Hi. Yeah, I mean, I understand Debbie's position of fighting for Michigan, given its current economic situation - I've lived here my whole life - in demanding representation at the national level. But when you knew full well that the delegates would be stripped, why would you choose to do so? And now that we've had an election where there was really only one candidate who had a chance at receiving most of the votes, why would you then fight to have those delegates represented at the national convention? It's already been a disenfranchised election. I couldn't vote for her, I wanted to. I voted uncommitted. Why would you put up such a fight?

And then additionally, Hillary Clinton's demands that her delegates be seated at the floor, it's sort of - seems ridiculous. There's only one person to vote for, then she's coming back trying to get them all seated. I mean, could you explain, perhaps?

CONAN: Just to point out that the only Democrat on the ballot in Michigan was Senator Clinton, I think Senator Dodd was on the ballot, too, but he'd already withdrawn from the race.

Ms. DINGELL: There actually were four on the ballot, but neither Senator Obama or Senator Edwards, which quite frankly, was not something that I had anticipated - I sort of got into the middle of this, this summer. I'm a lot smarter. We will write a bill that if there's ever one the next time, that no candidate could take their name off the ballot. There were a lot of people that did want to vote for Senator Obama. I will say that I am absolutely, positively committed to ensuring that the uncommitted delegates from Michigan will be those that represent Senator Obama and Senator Edwards at those district conventions. And those…

CONAN: But how do you know in what proportion? People didn't get to vote.

TODD: Exactly, how would you know all this?

Ms. DINGELL: It's going to happen at each of those conventions. Senator Obama and Senator Edwards are going to have their people - and we do know. We're waiting to see if votes have not been certified, this does get very complex legally and I still have been waiting to see from the state party what the final votes are and how he is going to allocate those delegates. But the breakout was - I mean, 40 percent of those - the delegates are uncommitted and need to go to Senator Obama and Senator Edwards. But I also want to say to those who were disappointed in Michigan - and believe me, there was no one more disappointed, Senator Obama did sign an affidavit and Senator Edwards' affidavit personally taking their names off that ballot, which they did not do in Florida.

CONAN: So they played by the rules; they're going to have to abide by the consequences. Michigan willfully violated Democratic Party rules. You knew what the rules were, why don't you live with the consequences - no votes?

Ms. DINGELL: None of us ever believed that we would not be seated at the convention and, quite frankly, you don't get change sometimes unless you go and you force the system to change. And all along, we are prepared to take this to the convention floor to fight, because that is the only way that we are going to get real and permanent change. The system is broke. It needs to be fixed. And we have tried quietly and sometimes we haven't had major change in this country until people have been willing to stand up, not in any kind of violent way, but stand up for change.

CONAN: Debbie Dingell, thanks for your time today. Appreciate it.

Ms. DINGELL: Thank you.

CONAN: Debbie Dingell, a member of the Michigan Democratic Party and a super delegate to this summer's Democratic convention in Denver. She spoke to us on the line from her office here in Washington, D.C. Let's get another caller in. This is Zach(ph). Zach with us from Norman, Oklahoma.

ZACH (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi there.

ZACH: Ron Paul, we haven't heard too much about Ron Paul. He won second place in Nevada. How many delegates does he have currently and how is that going to affect him at convention?

CONAN: Vin Weber?

Mr. WEBER: I'm afraid I don't know the number. He has some delegates, not a lot. He can certainly take - all he needs is one delegate to go to the convention and place his name in nomination, but I don't know exactly how many he's got right now.

CONAN: Do you think he could be a factor?

Mr. WEBER: Possibly. It depends on how close it comes. My guess is not. My guess is that if we have a contested convention, the big candidates - Romney, McCain, Giuliani and Huckabee - will have enough delegates so that the Ron's - and I count Ron Paul as a friend, I served with him in the House of Representatives. He's a good and decent man. I don't think that he will have enough delegates to make a firm decision. Furthermore, the Ron Paul delegates are not the type to engage in much horse-trading. I mean, the whole appeal that Ron Paul has to some voters out there is that he is an ideological purist, he's a libertarian, believes in very limited government, and the notion of those delegates becoming sort of king makers is a little bit contrary to what Ron Paul has stood for.

CONAN: Thanks, Zach.

ZACH: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go now to - this is Bill(ph). Bill with us from Sparks, in Nevada.

BILL (Caller): Yes. I'm interested. Why is the electoral process still in existence? How is it that a candidate can have a greater portion of the popular vote, but fewer electoral delegates and still lose…

CONAN: Are we talking about the nominating process or the general election?

BILL: Both.

CONAN: All right. Well, we're talking about the nominating process here. We'll get into the electoral college when it plays a point.

But Anna Greenberg, go through us one more time if, for example, why Hillary Clinton might get the most votes in the Nevada caucuses, but Obama might get one more or two more delegates than she does.

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, the delegates are apportioned - well, proportional to the percentage of vote you get but also within congressional districts. So a state that has a lot of congressional districts, you can get a lot more votes than one candidate. But if all comes out of one congressional district, it only gets you so many delegates. That's how it happened in Nevada. That's why places like California are going to be so interesting where Hillary Clinton has a pretty significant lead in the polls. But if Obama can win a number of congressional districts, he could come out with a lot of delegates.

CONAN: Go ahead.

Mr. WEBER: All of this stems from that pesky little document called the United States Constitution, which actually sets up the states as having a lot of powers reserved to them. And one of the most important things in the founding of the country was that you reserve to the states the right to cast votes, not to individual voters. And this - throughout this entire process, that's what we're seeing. And it's like - you could, well, as the caller indicated, yeah, we've had presidents, very recently, elected when the other guy got more popular vote, but he got the electoral votes. You could well have somebody nominated in either of these parties who got less popular votes in the nominating process than their opponent but got more delegates. It's because we continue to reserve certain powers and rights and responsibilities and respect to the states.

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, and we also, in the Democratic side, again, have the super delegate issue. So that - given that such a significant percentage of the delegates that come in are super delegates, if they - they could go with the candidate that did not get, win the popular vote.

CONAN: Does that answer you, Bill?

BILL: Change. Let's try and implement change.

CONAN: Ha, well, there's change but you can't implement change unless you get the nomination first. In which case, you better have the most delegates, though.

Thanks very much for the call.

And let's see if we can now go to - this is Courtney(ph). Courtney with us from Las Vegas in Nevada.

COURTNEY (Caller): Hi. I was just curious with the superdelegates. It seems like that this was put in place - I think was, what, in the early '70s - to kind of, the Democratic Party to have more control over who becomes the candidate for the Democratic Party. So a super delegate can go against their state and kind of, they can huddle up and pick who they want if the convention is so broken up, as it seems to be. Is this going to be public knowledge? Are we going to be able to see what super delegate picked? Or is this private information, a secret ballot that they all cast?

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, first of all, at the moment, a number of super delegates have announced who they've endorsed. And you will start seeing more and more super delegates, I mean, I think with Ted Kennedy today endorsing Barack Obama.

CONAN: Senator Kennedy is, of course, a super delegate as well.

Ms. GREENBERG: Yeah.

CONAN: And his vote just went to Obama.

Ms. GREENBERG: Right.

COURTNEY: Right.

Ms. GREENBERG: So I think you'll see more and more. But it is not a secret ballot. And you will know who the super delegates vote for on the convention floor.

Mr. WEBER: I should make the point. I think this is - the Democratic Party are sort of - Anna, tell if I'm wrong, but these people are not chosen capriciously. The criteria to become a super delegate in the Democratic Party is a member of Congress, member of the United States Senate…

CONAN: Party leaders.

Mr. WEBER: …governors, party leadership. It's not that they pick the names out of a hat in a smoke-filled room. The presumption is that party leaders have something special to contribute to the process.

COURTNEY: And does the super delegate change in four years then and they lose their super delegate status in the convention?

MR. GREENBERG: No.

CONAN: If you're reelected to Congress or to the Senate, you're still going to be a super delegate.

COURTNEY: I see. Okay.

CONAN: Okay?

COURTNEY: All right. That's interesting.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

We're talking with Anna Greenberg and Vin Weber about the delegate count, now seen as being the most important count as we come up to Super Tuesday while the Florida primary for Republicans tomorrow.

Well, there are some - anyway…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: …you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And here's an e-mail question from Van(ph). What body would adjudicate a disputed nomination - the Supreme Court, the individual supreme courts of the disputed states, some other body? If it's disputed, who's in charge here?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEBER: We picked the president eight years ago and couldn't answer that question.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEBER: I'm not sure.

Ms. GREENBERG: I don't know.

CONAN: Let's go now to…

Mr. WEBER: And it would probably be hard-fought. You'd probably have contests over jurisdiction.

CONAN: And over state delegations and who got - anyway, it would be a mess.

Kathleen(ph) in Reno, Nevada.

KATHLEEN (Caller): Hi. Nevada, of course, did the caucus system for the first time. And so I caucused for the Republican Party. And it was real unclear to me as to how - I know that all the delegates are nonbinding. But they were calling Nevada before we were even done caucusing. And it just seems odd to me that we didn't even know what was going on, and it was already being reported on national news.

CONAN: That the results of the caucuses in Nevada?

KATHLEEN: Yes.

Mr. WEBER: I don't know exactly how that worked. I'm from a caucus state. Minnesota has caucuses. And I've gone to them for years and years and years. Normally, I would think - I don't know what happened in Nevada. But if they asked you your preference when you walked in the door, sometimes the parties actually cooperate with the news media in supplying results of what looks like entrance polls, as opposed to exit polls. Or they could - sometimes, the news media stations, people outside caucus locations and does entrance polling of their own, and they could be inaccurate. But they report what looks like…

CONAN: It could have been a projection. But I doubt that was based on results, Kathleen.

KATHLEEN: Okay.

Mr. WEBER: Without knowing exactly what happened in Nevada, I don't think we can answer that.

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, I mean, first of all, the networks have agreed not to project elections before the polls close. So I don't believe - given, you know, what happened in the past. So I would be shocked if that was what it was. If certain - I'm not sure how they organize it geographically, but I would say if certain precincts - if their results are tallied before others and it's a sufficient number to make a projection that a particular candidate's going to win, they will do that. You will see some states where you'll see 2 percent of precincts reporting and they have projected a candidate to win. So maybe that your - where you were caucusing, had not finished yet but enough others had and reported the results that they were able to make that projection.

KATHLEEN: Okay. Well, and it just seemed that how do they decide that a certain candidate wins if all the caucus votes are nonbinding anyway. I mean, I could say one thing in the caucus and then go to the convention - the county convention and then the state convention - and completely change my vote.

So to me, it seems pretty tough to say that's who won if everything's nonbinding.

CONAN: Which is why people hire vote counters, who are professionals, to do exactly that.

Mr. WEBER: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KATHLEEN: Okay.

CONAN: Thank you, Kathleen.

KATHLEEN: All right. Thank you.

CONAN: And in just the minute or so we have left with you, Vin, if this is a war of attrition, who does it help on the Republican side? Again, Vin associated with the campaign of Mitt Romney.

Mr. WEBER: Well, I can't be objective about that because I think it helps my candidate, Governor Romney. I'm sure that a McCain supporter would argue otherwise. But Governor Romney has consistently, in the polls, shown to be more in touch with the Republican base, more in touch with the conservative base of the party that dominates the nominating process. And over a long war of attrition, I have to believe that those assets and virtues will win out. Although Senator McCain is certainly a very formidable candidate.

CONAN: On the Democratic side, who does it help, Anna?

Ms. GREENBERG: I think that Obama and Clinton are evenly matched. They have about same amount of money. They both have incredible ground operations. They are both, you know, their name ID is a hundred percent. I think that they - I don't think it favors either one.

CONAN: Anna Greenberg is a partner with Greenberg, Quinlan & Rosner, a Democratic political consulting firm. Vin Weber, chief executive officer of the lobbying firm Clark & Weinstock, was a Republican member of the House of Representatives and is an unpaid policy adviser to candidate Mitt Romney.

Thank you, both, very much for coming in.

Ms. GREENBERG: Thank you.

Coming up, adolescence is getting longer for some men and pop culture is not helping. The curious phenomenon of the child-man on the Opinion Page next. Stay with us.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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