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Why won't superdelegates choose now?

Couldn’t the Democratic superdelegates just put an end to the prolonged Democratic presidential nominating struggle? How about today?
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Couldn’t the Democratic superdelegates just put an end to the prolonged Democratic presidential nominating struggle?

How about today?

In theory, the superdelegates — elected officials such as senators and governors and elected members of the Democratic National Committee — have the power to end the contest now.

They could rally en masse to Sen. Barack Obama, who crushed Sen. Hillary Clinton in the North Carolina primary Tuesday and nearly beat her in Indiana. (There are about 265 remaining uncommitted superdelegates.)

But interviews at the Capitol Wednesday with several Democratic senators and House members — some committed and some not — supply answers to the superdelegate riddle.

Some of the uncommitted are holding out to wait and see what voters in the remaining primaries decide, while others are wary of alienating Democrats in their home states or congressional districts by publicly declaring support for one of the two rivals.

Friction back home
Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., an Obama supporter, gave his view that most of the remaining uncommitted House Democrats will back Obama. But the uncommitted “don’t want to upset anybody at all in their districts. Some have precarious districts and they don’t want to lose anybody at all” because Democratic disaffection could cost them support in their own re-election bids.

Perhaps fitting into this category is Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana who faces a challenging re-election battle this November.

“I will be remaining neutral for the foreseeable future,” said Landrieu. “I’m going to be very carefully watching what happens in the next couple of days, but I have been neutral, and out of respect for my supporters, half of whom are for Sen. Clinton and half of whom are for Sen. Obama, I’m going to stay that way.”

Another neutral superdelegate, Montana Sen. Jon Tester, said he’d wait until after his state’s primary on June 3. “I’ll make my own decision based on what happens between now and then, and who I think can win in November.”

'A day is like a year'
Another Democrat keeping his cards close to his vest is Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland. “My father told me that a day in politics is like a year. There’s a lot of things that could happen,” Cardin told a crowd of reporters as he tried to enter the Democrats’ weekly lunch meeting.

He’ll show his hand in late May or early June. The fact that Obama won Maryland’s primary with 60 percent of the vote “is a factor — but not a conclusive factor,” Cardin said.

Rep. Lincoln Davis, an uncommitted superdelegate from a Republican-leaning district in Tennessee, said he would wait until the convention in August to announce his choice.

“You never know where there might be a banana peel out there for someone to slip on,” he said.

He added, “I watched a football game called the Super Bowl and there was no doubt that Eli Manning’s team was going to lose and in the last few seconds the game changed.”

A mistake at the last second?
He said either Obama or Clinton “could make a mistake between now and August that could basically remove them from contention.”

He added, “I don’t know what’s going to happen between now and August, but I do know this much: Each of us was given the responsibility of being a delegate to the national convention” and those who wrote the party rules “meant for us to analyze who we thought could best win, not to put the stamp of approval on someone who may be the most popular or who may have the most votes.”

He said he would vote for “the best person to win the presidency in November” in order “to deny the Republicans the veto pen for the next four years.”

Ties of friendship and loyalty are also causing some Clinton superdelegates to stick with her, even though the outlook for Clinton just got much dimmer on Tuesday.

But long-time Clinton ally Sen. Diane Feinstein of California seemed to signal Wednesday that she would like Clinton to think about folding her tent.

“I have great fondness and great respect for Sen. Clinton. She’s a friend, I’ve worked with her all the time she’s been in the Senate and while she was First Lady. I’m very loyal to her,” Feinstein said, before letting slip the bad news. “Having said that, I’d like to talk with her and see what her view is on the rest of the race, what the strategy is.”

Feinstein added, “I think the race is reaching a point now where there are negative dividends from it in terms of strife within the party.”

Feinstein added, “Sen. Clinton is not an also-ran. She has commanded a substantial amount of the vote.” But Feinstein added, the question is “whether she can get the delegates she needs and I’d like to know what the strategy is to do that — and then we can talk further.”

When one of a candidate’s stalwart supporters says, in effect, “we need to talk,” it’s a bad sign. 

Good etiquette
For some of the Obama supporters in the Senate, refraining from telling Clinton to quit the race seems to be a matter of good form and respect for a colleague who they’ll need to work with in the future.

“Sen. Clinton is going to make her own judgment in her own time and I respect that,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan, an Obama supporter from North Dakota. “But I think last night moved us much closer to a final result.”

Uncommitted superdelegate Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado minimized the potential danger of intra-party friction between Obama and Clinton supporters.

“I think if we get this thing wrapped up in the first ten days or so of June, we’re going to be just fine…. I think that’s plenty of time to get back together and to create the kind of unity that will lead to a victory in November,” Salazar said. “I’ll do what I can do in the early part of June to try to push it to a final resolution.”

McCain looks beyond Clinton
For his part, presumptive Republican candidate Sen. John McCain has been looking beyond Clinton and waging a general election campaign against Obama.

McCain charged Tuesday that he has shown no signs in his Senate voting record of transcending partisan division. McCain said that 22 Senate Democrats (from battleground states such as West Virginia and Colorado) voted to confirm Chief Justice John Roberts, so why couldn’t Obama?

But many Senate Democrats see Roberts as the archconservative who has now revealed his true colors in his death penalty, abortion and global warming decisions.

Salazar, who voted to confirm Roberts, said he hadn’t talked to Obama about his ‘no’ vote on Roberts in 2005.

With the Supreme Court building behind him across the street as he spoke in the Senate lobby, Salazar said, “What I think is going to be very crucial is that I think people are going to be focused on the Supreme Court in November because the next president is going to make three or four appointments to the court.”