- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenuous lead in the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination is based on superdelegates who, depending on the race’s momentum, could swing allegiance to rival candidate Sen. Barack Obama.

  • Photos:Super Tuesday

  • Democratic party strategists said yesterday that, with the race so close between Mr. Obama, of Illinois, and Mrs. Clinton, of New York, it was possible that the party’s superdelegates could decide the nominee.

    “If it’s that close in those remaining primary and caucus states and the delegates are about evenly split, [superdelegates] could decide this,” said Jim Pederson, the former Democratic state chairman of Arizona who is backing Mrs. Clinton.

    Mrs. Clinton has about 1,045 delegates, including 261 superdelegates, of the 2,025 needed for the nomination, according to ongoing counts by the Associated Press and the two campaigns. Mr. Obama has about 960 delegates, including 202 superdelegates.

    Superdelegates, an array of members of Congress, governors and state Democratic National Committee (DNC) members, are free to support who they like at the party’s nominating convention — unlike pledged delegates allocated based on nominating contests.

    And with more than the half the roughly 800 superdelegates committed, both campaigns are furiously courting the remaining votes.

    “We would like to get as may as possible, though we don’t have a definite ceiling to what we’re shooting for,” said Clinton spokesman Phil Singer.

    One of the superdelegates, former DNC Chairman Steve Grossman, said they may be a deciding factor in crowning the Democratic nominee.

    “And as such I think many of them are likely to remain undecided for a significant period of time, waiting for a lot more results to come in,” Mr. Grossman said. “They may very well go through the big states to come until March to see how this shakes out and then make their decision.”

    The party created the system in the 1980s to open it up to wider voter participation. Officials at the time wanted its party leadership and hierarchy to share some of the nominating power that was being shifted to its party members at the grass roots.

    Mr. Grossman and Mr. Pederson said that the battle for the superdelegates was only part of the difficulty the party may face if neither candidate has a majority needed to win the nomination going into the convention in Denver — especially if the superdelegates decide the eventual winner.

    “If that happens, yeah, there could be feelings among the pledged delegates that these high potentates have picked our nominee,” Mr. Pederson said.

    But he added that any bitterness would quickly wane.

    “In the end, there will be a strong unanimity on behalf of our nominee because there is such a craving in our party to win back the White House and change the direction of our country,” Mr. Pederson said.

    Adding to the confusion are the discarded Florida and Michigan primaries. Last month, the national Democratic Party stripped Florida and Michigan of their 366 total delegates after the states’ Democratic parties moved their primaries ahead of Feb. 5, violating national party rules.

    Mrs. Clinton, who won both states, is pressuring the national party to recognize the results from Florida and Michigan at the summer convention.

    National party rules stipulate that Michigan and Florida delegates cannot count toward the nomination contest unless state officials in Michigan and Florida petition the DNC and then hold a new election.

    Mr. Obama’s campaign is forecasting the Democratic race will remain deadlocked after the primaries end this spring, and the outcome may depend on a fight over whether delegations from Florida and Michigan are counted.

    By the time the last primary is held June 7, Mr. Obama’s advisers project he will have 1,806 delegates to 1,789 for Mrs. Clinton, according to a document outlining the scenario that was inadvertently attached to a release on delegate counts from Tuesday primary and caucus results, the Bloomberg wire service reported yesterday.

    “This is only one of an infinite number of scenarios,” Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said, adding that the release of the information was unintended.

    DNC Chairman Howard Dean has said the candidates should work something out if a clear front-runner doesn’t emerge before this summer’s convention in Denver.

    This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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