Election 2008


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

There are still 10 more primaries and caucuses in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in big places like Pennsylvania and North Carolina, as well as small ones like South Dakota and Guam. But Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will likely split the delegates from those contests, so the final outcome will be in the hands of elected officials and party officers known as superdelegates.

There are 794 in all, and both campaigns are wooing them aggressively.

In fact, as NPR's Peter Overby reports, the courtships began a long time ago.

PETER OVERBY: The saga of one superdelegate starts with campaign stuff. Suppose you wanted a Hillary-for-president highlighter set, and yes, there is one; it's star-shaped, five colors, $5.

To buy the highlighter, you'd go to Clinton's campaign Web site and click on the button that says store. That would take you to hillarystore.com, which isn't actually run by the campaign. Clinton's people contracted it out to a supplier called Financial Innovations, Inc. And the owner of Financial Innovations is superdelegate Mark Weiner. He's also a Clinton fundraiser in Rhode Island, and he's a businessman who's been making and selling Democratic campaign stuff since Jimmy Carter first ran for president. Weiner's in poor health right now and declined to be interviewed.

Matt Jerzyk blogs about Rhode Island politics and favors Obama for the nomination, but he says Weiner, a former state party chair, comes by his superdelegate status for another reason.

Mr. MATT JERZYK (Editor, Rhode Island's Future): The real story is he's a very close Clinton friend. He's raised incredible amounts of money, not only for the Clinton's but for dozens and dozens of other federal Democratic candidates around the country.

OVERBY: Even before they announced for president, Clinton and Obama both had political action committees which spread contributions to prominent Democrats in Iowa, New Hampshire and other key states.

The Center for Responsive Politics calculates that as official candidates, Clinton and Obama have given nearly $1 million combined to elected officials who are superdelegates. Newcomer Obama accounts for about three quarters of the money. But the motives can be more subtle than they look.

Jenny Backus, a Democratic consultant, points out that the superdelegates are super because they already have political power. And the presidential candidates need to build networks.

Ms. JENNY BACKUS (Democratic Consultant): 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 that you support their causes.

OVERBY: So campaign money is the currency that facilitates these relationships. That's the analysis of political scientist Ray La Raja at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Professor RAY LA RAJA (Political Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst): Someone like Obama, who's a relative newcomer, who hasn't built up as many personal relationships as someone like Senator Clinton, will use this currency to get attention.

OVERBY: And La Raja says that when superdelegates make their endorsements, they see stars not dollar signs.

Prof. LA RAJA: The president of the United States can 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.

OVERBY: He says superdelegates also dream of patronage jobs, federal spending projects, even policy changes. It may be the one time when a fat campaign check looks puny — a small investment in what you might call White House futures.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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