- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2008

Leila Medley was sitting in her office at Missouri National Education Association in Jefferson, Mo., when the receptionist came to her door “with a funny look on her face.”

“This guy says Bill Clinton wants to talk to you,” the receptionist told Mrs. Medley. “I said, ‘Oh yeah?’ I spent five minutes telling him that he wasn’t President Clinton — but it was. I couldn’t believe it.”

Mrs. Medley is one of “them” — a superdelegate in the Democratic Party. The 796 superdelegates, who unlike delegates pledged to candidates based on a state contest’s outcome, can vote for whomever they choose. The huge bloc now appears poised to decide whether Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama becomes the presidential nominee for the Democratic Party.

The superdelegates include distinguished party leaders — a former president and vice president — as well as all 235 Democratic House members and nonvoting representatives — including the District’s two “shadow senators” — not to mention 49 senators, and 28 governors.

The dueling candidates are courting all of them heavily — so heavily that Rep. Harry E. Mitchell, an undecided superdelegate, joked that he expected candy from both yesterday, Valentine’s Day.

But the majority are simply members of the party rank and file, like Mrs. Medley.

“I’ve never held public office, I’m not a Democratic Party insider, I’m just a citizen that was elected by the Democrats that attended our state convention four years ago,” she said.

Jeanne Buell, a retiree from Worley, Idaho, who is vice chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party, said she’s met twice with Mr. Obama and once with Mrs. Clinton, but isn’t too thrilled with her newfound high profile.

“I was kind of hoping after Super Tuesday we’d have a clear line drawn in the sand, but we didn’t.”

Then there’s Richard Machacek, an at-large Democratic National Committee member who grows corn and soybeans in Winthrop, Iowa.

“I should put a new recording on my phone — press one if you want to talk to a superdelegate, press two if you want to talk to a real Iowa farmer,” he told the Boston Globe last week.

Both Democratic presidential campaigns and political strategists said Wednesday that superdelegates, not the voters in the remaining 18 state contests, will decide the party’s nomination. The reason: One of the two candidates would have to pull off the mathematically improbable feat of winning about 70 percent of the pledged delegates allocated in each primary or caucus down the homestretch to secure the nomination through pledged delegates.

So far, Mrs. Clinton has persuaded 242 superdelegates to support her; Mr. Obama, 160, according to a tally by the Associated Press. That leaves nearly 400 still undeclared, and they have quickly become the two candidates’ favorite valentines.

Like Wayne Holland, chairman of the Utah Democratic Party and another superdelegate now being deluged; he has received more than 100 e-mails since Super Tuesday on Feb. 5. When contacted yesterday he sounded frazzled and said he was currently “trying to juggle three phones at once.”

“There’s a lot of pressure, but I’m a union negotiator, so I’m used to pressure,” he said with a laugh.

Most of the people he has heard from are Obama supporters, urging him to follow the lead of his state’s voters, who went heavily for the Illinois senator, 57 percent to 39 percent for Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Holland, like Mrs. Medley, is a supporter of Sen. John Edwards, who has dropped out of the race and, so far, not endorsed either of his opponents. The international representative for the United Steelworkers has been courted directly by Mr. Obama — he said he’s been in touch with the senator “for more than a year” — and met with Michelle Obama the day before Super Tuesday.

Like all the others, Mrs. Medley has received hundreds of phone calls and e-mails from people trying to influence her decision, but said she didn’t know whether Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama has called.

“On my cell phone, I can tell who is calling, and I don’t want to talk with them because right now I don’t have anything to say to them,” she said with a laugh.

And like the others, she’s about had it with all those critics of superdelegates, including Donna Brazile, the campaign manager of the 2000 presidential campaign of Vice President Al Gore, who has threatened to step down from her Democratic National Committee position if superdelegates end up deciding the nomination.

“I just sent her a very terse message right now,” Mrs. Medley said yesterday. “I still feel like those people who elected me four years ago elected me to use my judgment to do what was best for the Democratic Party, and I feel like she really slammed me.”

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