An Open Letter to our Friends in the Press about NJ’s Democratic Primary

UPDATE: So, while I was posting this, the Associated Press was busy preparing a declaration that Hillary Clinton has already clinched the nomination, which they declare on the basis of a survey of superdelegates, in full knowledge those supers will not be voting for another 7 weeks. Here I was, concerned the press would suppress the California vote, when what they’re did the very same night is suppress the vote in six states at once.

At around 8pm tomorrow when Hillary Clinton likely wins the NJ primary, most of the press is poised to announce that that secures her the Democratic nomination. That will be incorrect. In fact, it will be bullshit. Most journalists know better, but the demands of the 24-hour news cycle is a powerful incentive to call definitive conclusions before anybody else. Today, journalism watchdog Poynter reminded journalists of these two Tuesday headlines …

Clinton Clinches Nomination  or Clinton Wins New Jersey

… the first makes a bigger splash, but the second, or something more nuanced, is factually correct from the standpoint of non-partisan journalistic principle. You know: reporting. Not familiar with Poynter Institute? It’s a non-profit journalism school, which also owns Tampa Bay Times, which runs PolitiFact. Its website on the journalism ethics and issues is well-regarded, if not always listened to.

If national media calls the nomination, that will come around 5pm California time, when West Coast Dems get off work and head to the polls. And it will depress the vote in western time zones, media effectively telling voters by the tens of thousands that their vote won’t count. California has 475 delegates, a far more target-rich environment than NJ’s 126. In fact, there are 692 delegates up for grabs tomorrow (plus the supers) – New Jersey, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, California. It’s one thing that Clinton, for 9 years “inevitable nominee,” would want to depress the vote west of her sure-thing in NJ. And both candidates have haunted Cali for weeks; he to show momentum to make his best case to the superdelegates at convention, and she to shut that mother down.

But why would the press play either candidate’s game?

Look, Blue Jersey is a progressive blog, and I am a partisan. I’m on this ballot, too. If you’re a Dem voting in the 16th/17th assembly districts, you will find my name on the ballot as Bernie Sanders’ delegate to the Democratic National Convention – where we elected delegates will vote along with the supers. It’s a privilege for me to ask for your vote to send me to Convention. But as much as I care about outcome, process – and accurate coverage of that process – matters too.

Many news outlets are adding superdelegates to the delegate total – like this – making no distinction between delegates won in state contests and superdelegates (about 15% of the total), who are mainly party insiders, big donors or lobbyists. Most of them announced their support for Clinton before she even had an opponent – and they may indeed stick to that. But the fact is, they don’t vote till late July, and all kinds of events could shift their vote either way, including a Sanders win in Cali. The Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign both have strong incentives for voters not to even think about that, because the reality is the most likely scenario it’s these supers who will be deciding who the nominee is. And if that feels like the party insiders detaching from the will of their state’s voters, that’s exactly what it is. Democrats have been under fire for months for being undemocratic like no cycle I’ve ever seen – for Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’ conduct which does not appear evenhanded (as DNC Charter requires), for the resignation of a DNC Vice Chair in disgust, for a process in which millions of dollars were funneled through state parties for spending towards Clinton, and for the reliance on superdelegates to put the kibosh on any grassroots uprisings the party can’t otherwise control:

Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists.                
DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Feb. 2016

Gee, I wonder who she was talking about?

I’m happy as hell to see New Jersey relevant in the party’s process. I’m on record criticizing the current delegate selection process that ensures the starting order of IA, NH, SC and NV gives those state’s unearned and outsized power over the rest of us to winnow the field by their choices months before we get ours. But the reality is that New Jersey’s vote is nothing more than our vote. And reporting it as the whole enchilada is helping the establishment campaign at the expense of the truth.

Comments (5)

  1. kfoster

    In 2008 Bernie came on board and backed Obama as soon as he had the number of pledged and REPORTED number of superdelegates. It was okay then, but now it’s not?

    Reply
  2. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

    Every election is candidate-specific, but you are largely correct. There are some differences, though. Obama was likely considerably more in line with what Sanders is about than Clinton was, and is. That may have factored in. He took a role to convince ‘independents’ to support Obama; he probably had a reason to do that. And attended the Dem National Convention for the first time toward that end.

    That might seem a relevant fact to you, I respect that, though it’s not a decider for me.

    Here’s what is – to me: At this time in 2008, Bill Clinton was busily phoning superdelegates, and asking them to vote for Hillary – saying America was not ready for an African-American president, and hoping that a rumored tape where Michelle Obama used the word “whitey” would materialize to use against Barack. Yeah. So all the stamping of feet, which has been going on for months btw, I see as do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do.

    By this time in 2008, if I recall correctly, the momentum was clearly with Obama. This year, with California a high-delegate state and the two in dead heat, you can’t say that for Clinton. There’s also the matter of the IG’s report, how persuadable voters beyond the primary may see that, what Trump can make of it, and whether there are other shoes to fall. My 2 cents.

    Reply
  3. CreedPogue

    What is different??? Other than you are supporting Sanders. Is there ANY empirical evidence that Democrats, Democratic voters, Obama 2012 voters or some other group besides Stein 2012 voters aren’t going to wind up with Hillary in the end? In 2008, FORTY percent of Hillary voters claimed they would not vote for Obama but virtually all of them did in November. And that was with a war hero and distinguished Senator on the GOP ballot versus a narcissist and racist buffoon.

    To correct memories, while Obama was thought to be the likely nominee after March 20 and all but presumptive on May 8, secured the majority of superdelegates on May 10 and the majority of pledged delegates on May 20, Senator Clinton still won six of the last nine contests. But, the numbers are the numbers. “Momentum” doesn’t actually vote.

    I don’t know why the Associated Press felt compelled to call superdelegates the day before but in reality all they have done is make public what was obviously known to a number of people.

    More importantly, two days after the last primaries and Obama got the magic number with pledged AND superdelegates together, Clinton announced that she would make a statement in two days. Only four days after the last primary while being a LOT closer than Sanders is now, Clinton suspended her campaign and announced her support for Obama. At the convention, she asked that Obama’s nomination be made unanimous.

    In 2008, before the Convention and before Senator Clinton conceded, Senator Sanders finally deigned to endorse Obama since he was the presumptive nominee. Other than it is now Sanders on the losing side, what is the difference???

    The real interesting story for the next week and months going forward is what exactly Senator Bernie Sanders does to unify the party.

    Reply
  4. WJCaruso

    In regard to Kfoster’s post, isn’t there a difference between a member of Congress endorsing a candidate and declaring the race over and calling for a candidate to end the race? I don’t understand why Sanders endorsement of Obama in 2008 is relevant to this discussion now. (Not being snarky-just really don’t get it.) That said, the original post makes a good point but perhaps a moot one given what happened last night. I also wonder how the HRC supporters feel given that the race was called in the manner it was last night. I have been a Sanders supporter. I am proud to have my name on the ballot this year to be a delegate. If we win, I plan on attending the convention to cast my ballot for him in Phila. If Bernie loses, I plan on working with my party to ensure that we do our very best to develop ideas and messaging that best reflect the values of our party and attract the largest and broadest pluralities in the fall. But that will only happen if our party allows it to happen.

    Reply
  5. CreedPogue

    I think the Associated Press managed to tick EVERYONE off. 🙂 Like I said, I don’t know what the urgency was. I have to admit that I do not like the idea of someone anonymously saying who they are going to support and having it counted. Of course, I also think the idea that public declarations of support are meaningless is foolish.

    In 2008, Senator Sanders did not wait until Clinton conceded or until the Convention to announce his support for Obama as the presumptive nominee. When the last primaries were over and Obama had secured the magic number INCLUDING SUPERDELEGATES, that was good enough for Bernie in 2008. What is different now other than Bernie is on the losing side of that??? THAT is the difference.

    I haven’t minded the idea of Bernie continuing on even though I think he has been exploiting his fundraising base by continuing a race with no option for victory. Hillary’s fundraising dried up in 2008 when donors realized there was no shot. Jeff Weaver (and Senator Sanders) played on Sanders’ reputation for probity to continue to draw dollars including many from people who were unemployed or otherwise giving sacrificially to allow Weaver to continue to draw $10,000 a month. But, that fraud is between Sanders and his supporters. My beef is the continuing to attack Hillary even after it is obvious that she is going to be the nominee. Say whatever positive stuff about yourself that you want. But, don’t say that you are completely committed to defeating Donald Trump while attacking the one person who stands between Trump and the White House. You can tell me, “Hillary did the same and worse!!” but I would reply that Sanders wants all of us to believe that he is a moral exemplar who is above the fray of dirty politics. You and I know that is very false but that is what Sanders has also played on.

    Reply

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