Last week, Kentucky got its first taste of the national attention that the May 20th Democrat presidential primary will focus on the state. Readers who follow the Democrats' nomination battle know that the primary's prize will be the all important delegate votes.
But how will these delegates allocated between the two main contenders, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton? The answer is a complicated, multi-layered formula that only a very few Democrat party insiders understand. Through some painstaking research, we've decoded the complicated calculus that are the Democrat National Convention delegate selection rules.
First of all, Kentucky will have a total of 60 delegates at the Democrat National Convention in Denver, Colorado. The convention will be held August 25-28. Those 60 delegates are composed of two main groups - pledged delegates and unpledged delegates. Pledged delegates are, at least in theory, pledged to vote for one of the two candidates based on the outcome of Kentucky's primary election. Unpledged delegates are able to cast their vote however they wish.
Of Kentucky's pledged delegates, 34 are allocated by congressional district.
Not all congressional districts receive the same number of delegates.The First, Second, Fourth, and Fifth Districts each receive five delegates. The Sixth District has six delegates and the Third District (composed entirely of Jefferson County) is the big prize with eight delegates. Each candidate will receive a number of delegates in the district that is proportional to their vote in the May primary. For example, if Hillary Clinton wins the First Congressional District 55% to 45%, she would win 3 delegates and Barack Obama would win 2. But if Clinton won that district 75% to 25%, she would win 4 delegates and Obama would only win one. Thus, winning more congressional districts than your opponent can be beneficial to a candidate, but winning those same districts by larger percentages is more beneficial.
There are an additional 17 pledged delegates. Eleven of these are at-large delegates that will be allocated to each candidate based on the proportion of the statewide vote they receive. The other six pledged delegates are what's called pledged Party Leaders/Elected Officials or pledged PLEO's. These six delegates will be composed of party leaders and elected Democrat officials that will be selected at the Kentucky Democrats' state convention on June 7th. Their votes will be allocated proportionally based on the statewide primary vote.
There are 9 additional delegates in the Kentucky Democrat delegation. These delegates are unpledged delegates, and may cast their vote however they wish, regardless of how their congressional district or Kentucky's Democrats vote. These unpledged delegates are called unpledged PLEOs, but are often referred to as superdelegates. Readers likely have heard quite a bit in the media about superdelegates' role in choosing the Democrat nominee.
Three of these superdelegates are elected officials: Governor Steve Beshear, Third District Congressman John Yarmuth, and Sixth District Congressman Ben Chandler. By rule, all Democrat members of the federal congressional delegation and Democrat governors are superdelegates in their respective state's delegation. Five of Kentucky's superdelegates are elected leaders in the Kentucky and National Democrat parties: Kentucky Democrat Party (KDP) Chairman Jennifer Moore, KDP Vice Chairman Nathan Smith, and Democrat National Committee Members Terry McBrayer, Moretta Bosley, and JoEtta Wickliffe. Finally, there is one add-on superdelegate that will be selected at the Kentucky Democrats' state convention. That add-on superdelegate will be nominated by KDP Chairman Jennifer Moore and voted on by the entire convention.
KyPolitics.org has put together a likely scenario for Kentucky's Democrat primary election, so that our readers can see how Kentucky's Democrat delegates might be allocated. In the chart below, congressional district delegates are in the blue rows, pledged delegates based on the statewide vote are in the red rows, and unpledged superdelegates are in the purple rows. Columns indicate the total number of delegates in each category, KyPolitics.org predictions about the outcome of Kentucky's primary, and the number of delegates awarded to each candidate based on that prediction.
Total Delegates Clinton % Obama % Clinton Total Obama Total Uncommitted
1st CD 5 75% 25% 4 1 -
2nd CD 5 70% 30% 4 1 -
3rd CD 8 45% 55% 3 5 -
4th CD 5 60% 40% 3 2 -
5th CD 5 80% 20% 4 1 -
6th CD 6 60% 40% 4 2 -
At-large Pledged 11 65% 35% 7 4 -
Pledged PLEO 6 65% 35% 4 2 -
Unpledged PLEO 8 - - 3 1 4
Unpledged Add-on 1 - - - - 1
TOTALS 60 65% 35% 36 19 5
We have counted the superdelegates that have formally endorsed a candidate in the appropriate column. Those superdelgates are: Congressman John Yarmuth (Obama), Moretta Bosley (Clinton), Terry McBrayer (Clinton), and JoEtta Wickliffe (Clinton). We believe that when all the votes are counted, Governor Beshear, the other KDP superdelegates, and the one add-on superdelegate will end up in Clinton's column, but we won't count those until they decide to announce their preference.
Under the scenario we predict, Clinton will win at least 36 Kentucky delegate votes and Obama will win at least 19 delegates. That leaves the five uncommitted superdelegates in the balance. If they all swing toward Clinton, that leaves a final tally of 41-19 for Clinton.
Media outlets estimate the difference in the national delegate count with a range of a 150 to 119 delegate vote lead for Barack Obama. Under the scenario that KyPolitics.org presents, Kentucky would yield a 17-22 net delegate vote gain for Clinton. That's not insignificant considering that Kentucky has a relatively small delegation going to the national convention.
A couple of other thoughts are also in order. First, the Third Congressional District in Louisville has the largest number of the district-based pledged delegates, likely is the district that is the most in-play between Obama and Clinton, and contains a TV market that reaches into Indiana (which has a May 6th primary). Expect this area of the state to receive the most attention from the campaigns. Second, Governor Beshear personally selected KDP Chairman Moore and Vice Chairman Smith for their current party roles. Provided that Beshear controls their superdelegate votes, that likely puts Beshear in charge of 4 votes in the Kentucky delegation (his, the two KDP leaders, and the add-on delegate that Moore nominates). It's a decent-sized chunk of convention votes for observers to keep an eye on.
Finally, in February Barack Obama's campaign leaked a projection of the pledged delegate allocation resulting from Kentucky's primary. Obama's campaign believed that the pledged delegates would break 28-23 in favor of Clinton. KyPolitics.org predicts that the final pledged delegate count will be 33-18 in favor of Clinton.