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Old Clinton ties, voters’ sway tug at delegates

The dwindling group of elected officials and party leaders publicly undecided in the Democratic presidential contest — about 300 out of the 795 so-called superdelegates who may determine the party’s nominee — includes at least 30 who have a long and often personal history with the Clinton family.
/ Source: The New York Times

The dwindling group of elected officials and party leaders publicly undecided in the Democratic presidential contest — about 300 out of the 795 so-called superdelegates who may determine the party’s nominee — includes at least 30 who have a long and often personal history with the Clinton family.

But more than 100 of them are from states whose voters have spoken in primaries and caucuses and voted, often overwhelmingly, for Senator Barack Obama. And in a year where Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has drawn much of her strength from women, there are nearly twice as many men as women who remain undecided.

Even at a time when Mrs. Clinton is struggling to hold on to the superdelegates she has, both candidates view the remaining 300 delegates who have not taken sides as probably the most critical audience they are competing for in the months ahead.

The campaigns provided an internal list of their superdelegate supporters to The New York Times that, combined with interviews with many of the superdelegates and campaign and party officials, drew a portrait of an electorate — particularly, the remaining undecided superdelegates — that in many ways marks the final contest of the nominating battle.

The candidates’ targets — an elite electorate — are in flux. The superdelegates face a set of political crosscurrents, especially since Mrs. Clinton has surrendered her early status as her party’s clear front-runner, and with it the pressure she could exert on her party’s leaders to get on board early with her. And they are in an unaccustomed position because neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Obama is expected to win the 2,025 delegates needed to claim the nomination before the end of the voting season, so they will need the support of superdelegates to get over the top.

The delegates are under no obligation to vote as they say they will. Already, they are showing a willingness to change their minds, as Mrs. Clinton was reminded when Representative John Lewis of Georgia switched course and said he would vote for Mr. Obama at the convention.

“I’m joining the witness protection program,” said Debbie Kozikowski, an undecided superdelegate from Massachusetts, a state that Mrs. Clinton won. “I told President Clinton on Sunday night when he called here that I remained uncommitted. I told him I appreciated him calling. But even he is not going to get me to do something.”

This universe of undecided superdelegates includes 46 members of Congress who have received a total of $333,900 in contributions from a political action committee set up by Mr. Obama. Yet it also includes a handful of Democrats who have been reliable donors to Clinton campaigns, giving Mrs. Clinton’s aides some hope as they plow through a daily roster of telephone calls.

First family of Democratic politics
Mrs. Clinton’s list shows the extent to which she has benefited from being part of the first family of Democratic politics for more than 15 years. Her superdelegate base includes 12 senators, compared with eight for Mr. Obama, and 72 House members, compared with 62 for Mr. Obama. And she has the support of at least five former leaders of the Democratic National Committee, along with nearly 150 Democratic National Committee members, compared with 86 for Mr. Obama.

Mrs. Clinton listed as superdelegates an array of past and current Democratic National Committee leaders, evidence of the extent to which she was, at least at one time, seen as the candidate of the party’s establishment. Those include Robert M. Strauss, Joe Andrew, Steve Grossman and Ken Curtis. (The chairman of her campaign, Terry McAuliffe, is also a superdelegate by virtue of being a former party chairman.)

Mrs. Clinton’s superdelegates include some lions of the Democratic Party, including Walter Mondale, the former vice president, and two former House majority leaders, Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Jim Wright of Texas. Her superdelegates also reflect her effort to recruit labor support, including Randi Weingarten, who is expected to become the new president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Gerald W. McEntee, the head of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Mr. Obama is enjoying support from elected officials from red and swing states, reflecting what his advisers said was the political judgment of attuned Democrats in states like Kansas and North Dakota who are worried that having Mrs. Clinton at the top of the ticket could complicate things for their candidates. And while Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House speaker, has said she would not endorse, key members of her California Congressional circle have rallied around him, including Representative George Miller, a fellow Californian who keeps watch on Ms. Pelosi’s political interests.

That has hardly escaped the notice of the 86 House Democrats who have not announced their position.

Beyond that, Mr. Obama enjoys the support of almost the entire Illinois delegation, including the governor, Rod R. Blagojevich, and the House speaker, Michael Madigan. He also is listing as superdelegates supporters suggesting the potential breadth of his appeal — including Fred Harris, the former Oklahoma senator, and Representative Russ Carnahan of Missouri. Mr. Carnahan’s father, the late Mel Carnahan, a former governor, gave Mr. Clinton a pivotal endorsement when he ran for president in 1992.

And for all Mrs. Clinton’s success with women voters, Mr. Obama’s list of superdelegates includes some of the most prominent women elected officials in the country, including Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Gov. Chris Gregoire of Washington.

Based on the lists provided by the campaigns, Mrs. Clinton now has 256 superdelegates and Mr. Obama 170. That does not count superdelegates from Michigan and Florida, whose delegations are the focus of a dispute; the Democratic National Committee has said it would not seat delegates elected in those states because the states held their primaries early, in defiance of Democratic National Committee rules.

The battleground of undecided superdelegates also includes, at latest count, 10 governors and 26 senators, as well as most of the leaders of the 50 state Democratic committees. It encompasses about a dozen union leaders, as well as at least one farmer and one former president. That would be Jimmy Carter, who aides said would not make his preference known and was not available for an interview.

It also includes some powerful Democratic elders whose vote, should they decide to announce it beforehand, could well influence the votes of other superdelegates who are holding back. That includes Al Gore, the former vice president; George J. Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader; and Gov. Bill Richardson, the New Mexico Democrat who had sought, until he dropped out last month, to become the nation’s first Hispanic president.

Mr. Richardson, in an interview, would not say whom he would vote for, but he clearly sided with Mr. Obama in the philosophical debate over how superdelegates should decide how to vote.

“It should reflect the vote of my state, it should represent the vote of my constituency,” he said. “It shouldn’t be because you’re a fund-raiser or a big-shot delegate. Superdelegates should reflect their state or constituency. If superdelegates decide this nomination, it’s going to look like big-shot politicians and fat-cats decided who should be president.”

But if Mr. Richardson sides with Mr. Obama on what should drive the decision of the superdelegates, that position would seem to leave him more likely to become a Clinton superdelegate: Mrs. Clinton won New Mexico by a slight margin.

Richardson undecided
Mr. Richardson said he had not decided whom to support, or even when he would make a decision. “I haven’t made up my mind,” he said.

There are 795 superdelegates, with 76 yet to be selected. That means that there are about 300 delegates who are enjoying almost as much if not more attention from the Obama and Clinton campaigns as, say, Wyoming, where caucuses on March 8 will choose a mere eight delegates.

Being essentially political creatures, these superdelegates are more prone to factor political considerations into their deliberations than the voters these two campaigns have encountered since the start of the year.

That has been something of a problem for Mrs. Clinton. As Mr. Obama has swept to victory in primaries and caucuses over the past week, and as polls suggest that he is becoming an increasingly strong candidate, it has sapped the clout of the Clinton campaign as it has sought to nail down commitments.

Many superdelegates are holding fast in the face of fairly direct urgings from aides to both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama that it is in their political interest to sign on now — when the candidates are hungry for endorsements — rather than later, when there might be a de facto winner.

“My sense is a lot of these people are going to be more swayed by who they think the ultimate nominee is going to be,” said Harold Ickes, who is running the operation for Mrs. Clinton. “The current situation is quite excruciating for them. They typically like to sign up fairly early.”

For their part, the delegates, in interviews, said they were trying to deal with the push-and-pull of recent days.

“I don’t know if there are any guidelines to follow,” said Scott Brennan, the Iowa Democratic chairman. He noted that Mr. Obama had won his state, but added, “I don’t feel like I’m obligated necessarily to declare for Senator Obama, though I may ultimately reach that conclusion.”

Christine Pelosi, an undecided superdelegate from California and a daughter of Speaker Pelosi, reflected the sentiment of many delegates in expressing satisfaction with both candidates.

“Barack won in San Francisco and Hillary won California; I think they are both great,” she said. “But I’m going to vote for the winner of the delegate vote; I just think the best thing for me to do is respect the view of voters.”

Kitty Bennett and Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.