Super lessons

Barack Obama wins San Francisco with a late surge of diverse supporters, but can he prevent the superdelegates from tapping Hillary Clinton?
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The Super Fat Tuesday presidential primary election in San Francisco was marked by some portentous trends and factors that could have a big impact on who becomes the Democratic Party nominee — and whether that person will be accepted as the people's legitimate choice.

Consider the scene the night before the election. A small army of young people made its way up Market Street carrying signs and pamphlets supporting their candidate, Barack Obama, taking up positions outside Muni and BART stations and on high-profile corners to spread the message of change.

Meanwhile, inside the Ferry Building, Mayor Gavin Newsom and former president Bill Clinton convened one of several "town hall meetings" held simultaneously around the country to promote the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, who checked in on a satellite feed.

Among the many luminaries on hand was State Sen. Carole Migden, a superdelegate (one of 71 from California) who has not yet pledged her support to either Clinton or Obama and who could ultimately play a huge role in determining the nominee. Migden made a show of exchanging pleasantries with the former president, warmly embracing him in front of a crowd of about 250 people and more than a dozen news cameras before taking a seat nearby.

But Election Day was for the regular citizens, and once their votes were counted and analyzed, a couple of things became clear. Clinton won California with the absentee ballots that she had been banking for weeks thanks to her deeply rooted campaign organization. Her margin of victory among early voters was about 20 percentage points.

Yet a late surge of support for Obama caused him to win at the polls on Election Day, leading to his outright victory in San Francisco by a margin of about 15,000 votes, or almost 8 percentage points. It was a symbolic victory for progressives on the Board of Supervisors, who backed Obama while Newsom campaigned heavily for Clinton (see "Who Wants Change?," 1/30/08).

Obama and Clinton were close enough in California and the rest of the Super Fat Tuesday states that they almost evenly split the pledged delegates (those apportioned based on the popular vote). But if present trends continue, even after Obama's sweep of four states that voted the weekend after California, neither he nor Clinton will have captured the 2,025 delegates they need to secure the nomination before August, when the Democratic National Convention convenes in Denver.

That means the nomination could be decided by superdelegates such as Migden, a group comprising congresspeople and longtime Democratic Party activists, from party chair Art Torres down to those with key family connections, such as Christine Pelosi and Norma Torres.

And that could be a nightmare scenario for a party that hopes to unify behind a campaign to heal the country's divisions.

Political analyst David Latterman, president of Fall Line Analytics in San Francisco, said this election was marked by a higher than expected turnout and more people than usual voting on Election Day rather than earlier. In San Francisco turnout was more than 60 percent, including an astounding 88.4 percent among Democrats.

"In the last couple weeks there was a strong get-out-the-vote push by Obama's people," Latterman said during a postelection wrap-up at the downtown office of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), which he delivered along with campaign consultant Jim Stearns.

Latterman said that Obama surge, which drew out voters who were generally more progressive than average, may have been the margin that pushed Proposition A, the $185 million parks bond, to victory.

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