House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the superdelegates who may ultimately decide the Democratic party's presidential nominee have a right to vote as they wish, and that the drawn-out contest between candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama should be allowed to reach its conclusion.
"These superdelegates have the right to vote their conscience and who they think would be the better president, or who can win, but they also then should get involved in the campaigns and make their power known there," Pelosi said in an interview aired Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Pelosi recently drew objections from Clinton backers when she said she shared Obama's view that superdelegates — nearly 800 elected officials and party leaders — should be guided by the vote for pledged delegates. Obama leads Clinton in pledged delegates earned in primaries and caucuses, but Clinton leads Obama in endorsements from superdelegates. Overall, Obama has 1,632 delegates to Clinton's 1,500, according to the latest Associated Press tally. It takes 2,024 delegates to win the nomination.
Pelosi repeated her view that it would it be harmful to the party if superdelegates were perceived to overturn the will of voters, but made clear she was not suggesting Clinton withdraw from the race.
"I think the election has to run its course," Pelosi said. "I think that for all that I have said about respecting the will of the people that the inference to be drawn from that is that we have to continue the election in terms of hearing from the people.
"I do think that it is important for us to get behind one candidate a long time before we go to the Democratic National Convention if we hope to win in November," Pelosi added.
Last week, Pelosi received a letter from 20 top Democratic donors who support Clinton, expressing unhappiness that Pelosi appeared to be backing Obama's position on pledged delegates and urging her to clarify her position.
Asked about the letter, Pelosi said: "It wasn't important to me."
Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a superdelegate who has remained neutral thus far, told reporters Tuesday he disagrees with the notion that superdelegates aren't accountable for their decisions in the presidential race.
"Most of us are accountable. In November, I have to stand for reelection. So whatever decision I make in August will be a component part of what my constituents in my district think of me," said Hoyer, D-Md.
That's not true of the delegates candidates win in primaries and caucuses, who generally are not elected officials who have to stand for re-election, he noted.
Barring a complete meltdown by Obama, Clinton has almost no chance of surpassing his number of pledged delegates, even if she wins big in Pennsylvania's April 22 primary, the largest remaining cache of delegates. But some Democrats fear such victories would encourage her to keep criticizing Obama — her only hope for the nomination — and thus heighten doubts about Obama's ability to defeat Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain in the fall.
Obama, in an interview taped Monday and aired Tuesday on NBC's "Today Show," said the former first lady "has certainly earned the right to stay in this race as long as she wants ... I think she deserves to be able to run and make her case."
Some Democratic strategists have warned of damage to the party's chances in November if women — especially the older, white working-class women who are Clinton's base — sense a mostly male party establishment is unfairly muscling her out of the race. Women make up the majority of Democratic voters nationwide.