Despite winning both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, John Kerry trails Howard Dean on the delegate scorecard. How can Kerry have fewer delegates than the man he's twice trounced at the polls?
The discrepancy is due to the early whims of some unpledged delegates, colloquially known as superdelegates. Of the 4,964 delegates who will attend the Democratic convention in Boston this July, the majority are obliged to support specific candidates in accordance with how their respective states voted during primary season. But there are 801 delegates who won't be bound by such customs. These superdelegates—typically congressmen, party leaders, and other political bigwigs—can support whomever they please at the convention. The delegate scorecard so far, then, takes into account that just more than a quarter of the superdelegates have already expressed a public preference for one candidate or another, and Dean has been the more popular choice than Kerry among this elite.
The Democratic National Committee created superdelegates as part of a 1982 overhaul of convention rules. In response to the furor at the 1968 convention, where street protestors railed against the rarefied nature of politics as usual, the party had opted to turn the nominating process entirely over to delegates picked in the primaries and caucuses, rather than giving party elders a backroom say. But after dark horses George McGovern and Jimmy Carter won their respective nominations, party leaders worried that the populist approach encouraged "insurgent" candidates who would tend to lose more often than not—Carter's 1976 triumph notwithstanding. The superdelegates, then, were intended to stabilize the process. As political insiders, they could generally be expected to cast their lot with mainstream candidates favored by the Democratic hierarchy.
Keep in mind that the current scorecard tallies only the support of the superdelegates who've made their intentions publicly known. These superdelegates can change their minds at any time, and it's quite possible that several of the Dean supporters will switch allegiances should Kerry's surge continue. One superdelegate who definitely won't be flipping, however, is Dennis Kucinich, who will be part of the Ohio delegation. According to the Columbus Dispatch, the former Cleveland mayor has already decided to support himself on the convention floor.