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Starting Gate: Super Troopers

Oh, those superdelegates. Since it is nearly impossible for either Democratic candidate for president to win the nomination with pledged delegates alone, the spotlight is shining on the superdelegates in a way it never has before, notes Jennifer De Pinto of CBS News' election and survey unit.

Since 1984, Democrats have set aside seats at their convention for their party's members of Congress, Governors, and other "Distinguished Party Leaders" as well as for all members of the Democratic National Committee – the superdelegates. This year, they account for about one-fifth all Democratic delegates.

Superdelegates serve by virtue of the positions they hold so retirements, resignations, deaths, and special elections all have an impact on the number of superdelegates that will attend the convention. This shifting number of superdelegates, therefore, affects the total number of Democratic delegates and the number needed to nominate (the current CBS News delegate count stands at 1,594 for Barack Obama and 1,471 for Hillary Clinton, including superdelegates). Here are some recent examples:

  • Bill Foster, a Democrat, defeated Republican Jim Oberweis to fill the House seat vacated by the retirement of Dennis Hastert. Foster was sworn on March 11th, earning him not just the title of U.S. Representative but Democratic superdelegate. Foster's election increases the number of superdelegates (and total Democratic delegates) by one. Barack Obama campaigned for Foster and the new Congressman has publicly said he would cast his superdelegate vote for Obama at the convention.
  • In December 2007, Julia Carson, U.S. Representative from Indiana's 7th district, passed away. Her passing left a House seat vacant and temporarily reduced the number of superdelegates by one. However, a special election was held on March 11th to fill her seat and it was won by Julia Carson's grandson, Andre Carson – a Democrat. His election bumps the number of superdelegates back up by one.
  • Tom Lantos, a Congressman from California's 12th district, passed away in February of this year thus reducing the total number of superdelegates by one. On April 8th, a primary election will be held, followed by a special general election on June 3rd to fill his seat. A Democrat is expected to win that seat which will give California back a superdelegate. Still, the winner of the special election would have to be sworn into office by June 21st – the date by which all delegates to the Democratic convention must be selected.
  • Gov. Eliot Spitzer will resign from office effective Monday, March 17th –amid allegations that he was a client of a high-end prostitute. As a Democratic governor, Spitzer is a superdelegate and he has publicly backed Clinton. With Spitzer's resignation, Clinton will lose one superdelegate. Lt. Gov. David Paterson, already a superdelegate by virtue of his position a DNC Member-at-large, will take office upon Spitzer's resignation. Paterson will not cast 2 votes so ultimately the state of New York will likely lose one superdelegate. Paterson has publicly endorsed Clinton.
  • And finally, a superdelegate's residency can also have an impact. This year, one superdelegate moved from Maine to Florida so, at least for now, that superdelegate's vote will not be counted.