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The party’s wild cards

Wed., Feb. 13, 2008

Most of Washington state’s 17 superdelegates to the Democratic convention have yet to announce who they will back for president, but the ones who have are an almost opposite image of last Saturday’s caucus results.

Caucus participants supported Barack Obama by about 2-to-1 over Hillary Clinton. But five of the state’s superdelegates are supporting Clinton while just three are supporting Obama.

On Tuesday, some superdelegates tried to calm fears that they would sway a close vote and override the grass-roots choice of those who participated in local caucuses. That scenario could occur if neither Obama nor Clinton captures a majority of delegates by the time the states finish with their primaries or caucuses in June.

“I would ask everyone to calm down a little bit,” said U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, a superdelegate backing Obama. He’s urging the state’s undecided, or at least unannounced, superdelegates to hold off for a few months on stating their support.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a superdelegate supporting Clinton, announced her endorsement before the caucuses “because I felt voters deserved to know where I stand.” But she believes the voters will select enough delegates through primaries and caucuses to give one candidate or the other the majority before the national convention starts in August.

A spokeswoman said Murray was urging everyone to let the process run its course. When asked how she would vote if neither Clinton nor Obama had enough delegate votes to secure the nomination, spokeswoman Alex Glass added: “We’re not going to get into hypotheticals.”

At issue is the question of the Democratic Party’s use of key members – some elected officials and some party leaders – to cast their ballot for a nominee along with delegates selected through the primary or caucus processes. Regular delegates are bound to vote for the candidate to whom they are pledged on the first ballot at the national convention. Superdelegates are allowed to choose which candidate to support and can switch their support at any time.

That system, which the Democratic Party has used in various forms since the 1970s, rankles some Obama supporters who contend the superdelegates should reflect the caucus or primary results. In an interview with, a political news site, Obama said Monday he thought it would be a problem if either he or Clinton won a majority of the regular delegates, and “that was somehow overturned by party insiders.”

The issue may be less of a concern in Idaho, where Obama won an overwhelming victory in county caucuses, and three of the four known superdelegates have endorsed him. State Chairman R. Keith Roark is uncommitted and a fifth superdelegate will be chosen by delegates to the state convention.

Idaho Party Vice Chairwoman Jeanne Buell, of Worley, said she feels she has an obligation to represent voters in Idaho in general, and in Kootenai County in particular, where about 79 percent of the caucus participants supported Obama. She also promised to endorse the first Democratic candidate who would come to Idaho and campaign, and that was Obama, she said.

In Washington, Clinton has the support of most of the superdelegates who have announced who they back, even though Obama was the clear favorite among caucus participants.

Smith notes, however, that the majority of Washington’s superdelegates are uncommitted, so the final tally could wind up close to the caucus results.

It would look bad for the superdelegates to decide the election by voting in a far different ratio than the public, Smith said. But he doubts that would happen.

“I think it would interfere with the ability of our candidate to win in November,” he said. “These are not stupid people, and they want to get a Democrat elected.”

Several of Washington’s superdelegates said they are going to wait for the primaries and caucuses to play out before deciding who to support. Although he’s a superdelegate, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen said he’s no fan of the system; he isn’t even planning on going to the national convention in Denver unless the votes of the superdelegates are needed to select the nominee.

He said he doesn’t know yet who he’ll support, and is waiting to see the results of all of the caucuses and primaries – including Washington’s Feb. 19 primary, which has no effect on selecting regular delegates. “We do need to let the grass roots decide, but we need to let them go through the process,” Larsen said.


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