Candidates Aggressively Court Superdelegates

Neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton may have a clear lead in delegates to secure the Democratic nomination, so both are aggressively courting superdelegates. Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio talks about his role as a superdelegate.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rene Montagne. And I'm Steven Inskeep.

Senator Barack Obama has now won eight straight Democratic nominating contests. And for the first time, he leads Senator Hilary Clinton in the delegate count. It's a very slim margin, and neither candidate has a clear enough lead in delegates to secure the presidential nomination. So both candidates are aggressively courting superdelegates.

MONTAGNE: And those superdelegates are essentially independents. They are powerful members of the party - governors, members of Congress, various party officials - who can make their own choices. They make up about a fifth of all available delegates and this year could decide the race. Sherrod Brown is one of them. He is a Democratic senator from Ohio and so far hasn't endorsed either candidate, joins us now to talk about this. Good morning.

Senator SHARROD BROWN (Democrat, Ohio): Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, your state's upcoming primary, it's on March 4th, could go a long way toward prolonging or deciding the race, so you must be hearing hourly from both sides.

Sen. BROWN: Certainly. I mean both sides are talking to superdelegates. They are talking to all kinds of activists in Ohio, and the excitement of this race is something I've never seen as a longtime elected official, longtime activist. And you know, my view is I want the millions of more people in Ohio and Wisconsin and Texas and Pennsylvania, North Carolina, to speak out and to be heard.

MONTAGNE: Well, let me ask how the pitches to you - and they are made to you personally - how do they differ, if they do, from the appeal that these campaigns are making to voters?

Sen. BROWN: They don't differ much. They are beginning to differ because I think you are going to see a different message in Ohio, in Wisconsin, and states that have been hard hit by manufacturing job loss. And I think the winner of these states - in Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania particularly - but the others too is, excuse me, is going to be the candidate with the big idea about what do we do to help the middle class, what do we do to restore manufacturing, alternative energy, trade, infrastructure, and I think the candidate that speaks most articulately and forcefully with a big idea about those issues will not just win Ohio in March, but will win Ohio in November and become the next president.

MONTAGNE: Right, but you're really speaking about the sort of pitch, if you will, they're making to voters. What about to you, though? Does it turn on such things as, I can be elected?

Sen. BROWN: Some, but I think that both candidates can make a good case that they, that - or Hilary can make that case, Barack can make that case - that each is the most electable. For me it really is, because they know what - I mean it really is about what are they going to do about Ohio and the middle class, what are they going to do in this country. And I think that they know the kind of race I ran in '06 for the Senate against an incumbent talking about those economic issues, how do you fight for the middle class, and they know that's what appeals to me for my support, and I've talked with them about trade and infrastructure and alternative energy for six months, each of them, when I see them in the hallway and going to vote in the Russell Building, for instance, or on the Senate floor.

So they know that message will work in Ohio and they know that's - I think both of them understand that's the way to govern once they are in office.

MONTAGNE: Now, stepping back for a moment, as a superdelegate, who are you most responsible - to the voters in your state or to your own judgment about who would be the best candidate for president? In other words, do you follow the voters or do you follow your own judgment?

Sen. BROWN: I think you ultimately follow your own judgment about what's best for the country, and that's - and I am going to certainly pay attention to people that talk to me, representing both candidates, or just people that talk to me in general. I'm going to listen to the voters in Ohio. A lot can happen between March and the August convention. I want to look at, you know, the movement of the country and I specifically want to hear, very specifically, what are they going to do for the middle class in Ohio and across the country.

MONTAGNE: Now, you haven't made a commitment, as we said, but more than half of the superdelegates have already endorsed either Clinton or Obama. How solid are those commitments?

Sen. BROWN: I think they're solid. I think that - I don't think many people in politics, for all the negative things we can say about all of us, if you give your word, just stick with it on something like this. And I think those that are committed, unless you know, unless one of the candidates gets far enough ahead that the other decides to drop out or that the other doesn't - it's not mathematically impossible but very unlikely that one of the candidates could win, then I think there are discussions. But I think people live up to their words.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Sen. BROWN: Glad to. Thank you, Rene.

MONTAGNE: Ohio senator and superdelegate Sherrod Brown. NPR political editor Ken Rudin looks at the controversial role superdelegates might play in the Democratic party's nominating process in his latest Political Junkie column. That's at NPR.org/elections.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Superdelegates May Break Democrats' Dead Heat

Democratic candidates New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama have each won contests in a number of states, but what really matters is how many delegates they accumulate for the Democratic Party's National Convention in Denver in August.

The magic number of delegates needed to clinch the presidential nomination is 2,025. But neither candidate has gotten anywhere near that number in state voting. If that continues, it could eventually fall to so-called superdelegates to decide the Democratic race.

The 796 superdelegates make up nearly 20 percent of the overall Democratic delegation this year. They are members of Congress, governors, party elders and activists. Party officials created superdelegates in the early 1980s so situations such as a deadlocked convention could be resolved by party insiders, said nominations expert Henry Brady of the University of California at Berkeley.

"There was a concern that somehow there wasn't enough adult supervision actually by the rest of the party, and so one way to get more of the party politicos and pros into the process was to create these superdelegates," Brady said.

More than half of the superdelegates have already endorsed either Clinton or Obama. Because Clinton has snagged more endorsements, she is slightly ahead of Obama in the total delegate tally — even though he actually won more regular, pledged delegates. Both are assiduously courting undecided superdelegates such as Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown.

"I think the superdelegates will pretty much reflect what the voters have done," Brown said. "I think by August, one of the candidates will have begun to get momentum and have a substantial lead. I think the superdelegates will, in all likelihood, as we should, reflect that."

And if that does not happen?

Brown won't say when he will make an endorsement. But another senator, Florida Democrat Bill Nelson, has already backed Clinton; he wants this race decided before it gets to the convention, although he is not sure that is possible this year.

"I don't think we want to go back to those wheeling, dealing, smoke-filled back-room days," Nelson said. "Right now, it looks like that's the only choice."

It's a choice that Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar also thinks should be made before the convention. She has yet to endorse anyone.

"I will not go through the summer — I can tell you that — without endorsing a candidate. I'm not a big believer in smoke-filled rooms," she said.

Obama told reporters Friday that the superdelegates should be guided by the results of the primaries and caucuses, saying, "My strong belief is that if we end up with the most states and the most pledged delegates from the most voters in the country, that it would be problematic for the political insiders to overturn the judgment of the voters."

But Obama added that superdelegates should consider who is best able to defeat Republican John McCain in November.

Clinton told reporters Monday that superdelegates should exercise independent judgment: "You can look at this state-by-state and see that there are a lot of people in states that I've won who support him, a lot of people in states that he won that support me. That's what superdelegates are supposed to do."

If anyone knows the sting of a superdelegate vote, it is former Sen. Gary Hart. Today he is an Obama supporter, but in 1984, when he ran for president, neither he nor Walter Mondale had won a majority of delegates going into the Democratic convention.

"I think virtually every superdelegate voted for Walter Mondale. In the teeth of polls the weekend before the convention, showing that Fritz ran 15 to 17 points behind Reagan and I ran 4 to 5 points behind Reagan, they still voted for Mondale, and Mondale lost very badly," Hart said.

If superdelegates must break a stalemate this year, it is unclear how bound these supposedly free agents will feel to any promises they have made to either candidate.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.