Superdelegates Enjoy an Abundance of Attention

Suppose you wanted a "Hillary for President" highlighter set.

The campaign has them for sale: star-shaped, with five colored markers. They cost $5.

To buy a Hillary highlighter, you would go to Clinton's campaign Web site and click on the button that says "store." That would take you to HillaryStore.com, which is not actually run by the campaign. The campaign instead contracted it out to a supplier, Financial Innovations Inc. of Cranston, R.I.

The owner of Financial Innovations is Mark Weiner, a superdelegate and one of the 794 Democratic elite whose votes at the convention will settle the Democratic contest and give the presidential nomination to either New York Sen. Hillary Clinton or Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. The superdelegates primarily are elected officials and party leaders; unlike ordinary delegates, chosen by state primaries and caucuses, superdelegates go to the convention because of who they are, not who they are pledged to support.

Weiner started making Democratic campaign paraphernalia in 1976, when Jimmy Carter first ran for president, and he has been at it ever since. He has also served as Rhode Island Democratic chairman. But as Rhode Island blogger and Obama supporter Matt Jerzyk points out, Weiner comes by his superdelegate status for other reasons.

"The real story is he's a very close Clinton friend," Jerzyk says. "He's raised incredible amounts of money — not only for the Clintons, but for dozens and dozens of other federal Democratic candidates around the country."

Weiner is in poor health right now and declined to be interviewed.

Clinton and Obama began wooing prospective superdelegates before the presidential race even officially started. Both had political action committees: Clinton had HillPAC for Clinton, Obama had the Hope Fund. The committees spread contributions to prominent Democrats in Iowa, New Hampshire and other key states.

The Center for Responsive Politics calculates that since they became official candidates, Clinton and Obama have given nearly $1 million, combined, to elected officials who are superdelegates. Obama, as a newcomer trying to overcome the years that Clinton spent networking, accounts for about three of every four dollars contributed.

But the motives behind the money can be more subtle than they look. Superdelegates are super because they already have political power, and that in itself draws the presidential candidates.

Jenny Backus, a Democratic consultant, says the presidential candidates need to build an organization in each important state, "and one of the ways that politicians do this is by trying to go out and meet elected officials, and showing people in that state that you share the values of that elected official and you support their causes."

Campaign money is one means of facilitating these relationships.

"Someone like Obama, who's a relative newcomer who hasn't built up as many personal relationships as someone like Sen. Clinton, will use this currency to get attention," says Ray LaRaja, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

And when superdelegates make their endorsements, they see stars, not dollar signs. LaRaja suggests the thought process of a superdelegate: "'The president of the United States could be coming to my backyard for a barbecue with all my constituents.' That's more important to them than getting a few thousand dollars in cash."

Beyond barbecues, he says superdelegates dream of patronage jobs in Washington, of federal spending projects in their home states, even of changes in social policy or tax law.

It may be the one time when a fat campaign check looks puny — a small investment in what might be called White House futures.

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.

Support comes from: