With Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama neck-and-neck going into the home stretch, it looks like Oregon could make history this year: Its presidential primary might actually matter.
The state holds its Democratic and Republican primaries in May - this year, on May 20 - which in the past has meant the presidential nominations have already been decided by the time Oregonians get a chance to vote. But things are looking different here this time.
As of Thursday, The Associated Press put the delegate count at 1,276 for Obama and 1,220 for Clinton, with 2,025 needed to win. Fifteen states with a total of more than 1,000 delegates have yet to hold their primaries, so mathematically either candidate could sew up the nomination before May 20. (Montana is the only state that holds its primary later than Oregon.)
But if the race stays even semi-tight, Oregon's delegates could turn out to be crucial.
"Oregon, for the first time in a generation, is likely to be relevant," US Rep. Earl Blumenauer, one of Oregon's Democratic "superdelegates," said on Oregon Public Radio this morning. "Oregon is in a position to make a fundamental difference."
Oregon Democrats will be sending 52 pledged delegates to the party's national convention in Denver in August. They'll be awarded on a proportional basis - in other words, if Obama gets 60% of the primary vote he'll get 60% of the delegates and Clinton will get the other 40%. (The Republican primary will be winner-take-all, but on the presidential level it will be irrelevant anyway because Sen. John McCain is the only credible contender left in the race.)
The Oregon delegation also will include 12 superdelegates - elected officeholders, like Blumenauer, and party bigwigs like Democratic State Chairman Meredith Wood Smith, who are not pledged to any candidate and can vote for whoever they want at the convention. Blumenauer has announced he'll vote for Obama; Smith says her vote will be determined by the popular vote in the primary.
The superdelegate system has taken flak from Democrats who say it's a throwback to the old smoke-filled room days and that the votes in the convention should represent "the will of the people." But Kari Chisholm on the BlueOregon blog raises a good question: Which people?
"How would you recommend that Oregon's 12 superdelegates decide whom to support?" he writes. "Should they reflect the will of Oregon's primary voters? Should they vote en masse for the winner? Or, if the vote is 50/50, should they vote 6 and 6?
"Should the superdelegates that are members of Congress reflect the will of Oregon's primary voters statewide? Or just the voters in their districts?
"Or should they reflect the will of the national primary electorate? Should they simply vote en masse for the candidate that gets the most popular votes nationwide? Or should they vote for the candidate that wins the most elected pledged delegates nationwide? ...
"And finally, put yourself in their shoes: If you were a superdelegate and were absolutely convinced that Candidate A would make a better candidate and better president than Candidate B... could you really vote for the lesser candidate in your judgment? Do you have a responsibility to your party and your country to cast your vote for the best person?"