Clinton campaign defends superdelegates’s influence

A top strategist to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) on Saturday countered the recent claims of some prominent Democrats that party elders would be wrong to override the will of their constituents in their choice for the Democratic presidential nominee.

In a phone call with reporters, Harold M. Ickes, argued that the 796 so-called superdelegates who could decide the party’s White House nominee were as much or “potentially more in touch” with the issues important to voters than the delegates amassed by the candidates through state primaries and caucuses.

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He also suggested that Clinton would fight to the bitter end for the nomination, predicting that she would be “neck and neck” with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) after Puerto Rico votes on July 7 and would rely on the support of the superdelegates to clinch the nomination “shortly after that.” The Democrats will hold their convention in late August.

The role of these 796 party leaders has become a source of controversy as Clinton and Obama remain locked in a fierce battle for the Democratic nomination. Both campaigns are aggressively courting them as the possibility looms that neither will garner the 2,025 pledged delegates necessary to seal the nomination.

Since Clinton narrowly trails Obama in the number of such delegates, yet appears to lead him in superdelegate support, her campaign has forcefully sought to dispel the notion that party elders would be acting undemocratically by interceding to tip the vote. The Obama camp is just as ardently pressing the opposite view.

Meanwhile, prominent party leaders who are themselves superdelegates have been weighing in.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in an interview with Bloomberg News on Friday, boosted the Obama campaign by backing the contention that party elders ought to follow the lead of voters.

“It would be a problem for the party if the verdict would be something different than the public has decided,” she said.

In a boon to Clinton, House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) said on Friday that he does not believe superdelegates should base their vote solely on caucus or primary results. “We’re supposed to be unpledged delegates. We are not supposed to be pledged,” he told reporters.

Seizing on Clyburn’s remarks, Ickes argued that the governors and lawmakers who make up the bulk of what he persistently referred to as “automatic delegates,” rather than superdelegates, have a sense for “what it takes to get elected” and for “the institutional interest of the Democratic Party” because they have recently won races.

“The notion that the automatic delegates are divorced from what’s going on … just is not true,” he said.

Invoking his long-time membership of the Democratic National Committee and participation in several of his party’s conventions, he argued that the duty of the superdelegates was “most importantly” to choose the candidate that could win in November. He asserted that this was the intention of the Hunt Commission that conceived of them.

Citing news reports about the Obama campaigns internal predictions, Ickes said that Obama would need the support of 340 of these 796 party elders to clinch the nomination, compared with the 480 that Clinton would need.

He blamed the media for coining the superdelegates name, which he said fosters the sense "that they are going to descend on us from Mars,” adding, “The fourth estate created the term super delegates. Not us. Not Senator Obama.”

Ickes also argued that delegates from Michigan and Florida, who were stripped of their credentials after each state defied the national party by moving up their primary dates, should be seated at the convention. Clinton won uncontested primaries in both states.

Even though Ickes, as a member of the party’s Rules and Bylaws committee, last year voted to punish the Michigan and Florida state leaders by not seating their delegates, he now argued they should be counted at the convention.

The party would be foolhardy to alienate Democrats in two states likely to be pivotal in the general election, he argued, citing the record turnout in the Michigan primary.

“Both of those states are critically important to Democratic presidential fortunes this fall,” he said.