What Happens After Obama Claims a Majority of Pledged Delegates Tonight?

Tonight, assuming he wins the Oregon primary, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, will claim that he's won a majority of pledged delegates.

By ABC News' count, Obama right now has a total of 1,915 delegates -- 1,609 pledged delegates and 306 superdelegates. He needs 18 pledged delegates to reach a majority of pledged delegates, and 111 total delegates to win the nomination.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, will push back on this.

She will correctly point out that such an achievement does not constitute winning the Democratic nomination, which will require Obama (or Clinton) to win 2,026 total delegates. She will also suggest that the actual number of delegates needed to win is 2,210 -- a computation that includes the contests in Michigan and Florida, which as of now the Democratic National Committee does not count.

Either way, of course, the Obama achievement in reality offers Obama bragging rights and not much else tangible.

Except for the fact that there have been public statements by many Democratic officials -- super-delegates -- suggesting that whoever wins the most pledged delegates should be the nominee.

This is not the rule -- superdelegates can vote for whomever they choose, for whatever reasons they desire. They can ultimately look at Karl Rove's charts or Obama's weakness with white working-class voters and conclude that Clinton would mount a stronger challenge to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and vote for her accordingly. In fact, pledged delegates can vote however they want as well. And in such individual empowerment, Clinton's hopes lie.

That said, it seems quite likely that super-delegates en masse are likely to follow the will of the majority of pledged delegates.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has certainly expressed such a sentiment, telling George Stephanopoulos in March, "if the votes of the superdelegates overturn what's happened in the elections, it would be harmful to the Democratic Party."

The Speaker's daughter, superdelegate Christine Pelosi has expressed similar views.

As has former President Jimmy Carter.

Not to mention Clinton-backing Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash, who told the Columbian newspaper, "'I definitely don't want the superdelegates to be the deciding factor...If we have a candidate who has the most delegates and the most states,' the Democratic party should come together around that candidate, Cantwell said. The pledged delegate count will be the most important factor, she said, because that is the basis of the nominating process."

Clinton-backing superdelegate Elaine Kamarck told the Indianapolis Star in February that "the superdelegates are not interested in overturning the will of the people and they never have been, and there's no indication they ever would…Now if the will of the people is a complete dead tie, then I think we're in new territory and perhaps the super delegates will play a role at that point.”

Clinton-backing CNN pundit Paul Begala said in January, "these superdelegates are super-ratifiers. That’s all they're going to be, that’s all they should be, by the way, because I think they are an abomination against democracy. Because most of them are either elected officials like Congressman Bacerra or they're, you know, party leaders. They ought to respect the will of the people, because otherwise what do you do? "

In February at a New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators conference in Albany,Clinton-backing Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-NY, said, "It's the people [who are] going to govern who selects our next candidate and not super-delegates . "The people's will is what's going to prevail at the convention and not people who decide what the people's will is ."

And Clinton-backing New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine said, "I feel the superdelegates will end up trailing along with the conclusions that I think the voters express.”

Well? Senator Cantwell? Professor Kamarck? Mr. Begala? Chairman Rangel? Governor Corzine?

- jpt

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