If superdelegates pick nominee, Democrats face backlash
The idea that party insiders would decide contest strikes many as 'undemocratic.'
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To many, that would be a relief. Although some superdelegates said just a few weeks ago they'd welcome a deciding role, a backlash has been building to the notion that party insiders could tip the outcome. Superdelegates, known in the party rules as unpledged delegates, clearly are feeling the heat.
"There is an anger among a substantial element of the party who feel these unpledged delegates are somehow undemocratic, and if the primary result is overturned, the results are somehow illegitimate," says Stuart Rothenberg, an independent political analyst in Washington. "This is a major problem for the Democrats."
Early on, Senator Clinton amassed a big lead among superdelegates – a group that includes Democratic members of Congress and governors, Democratic National Committee officials, and 76 at-large delegates yet to be selected. In all, the superdelegates account for about one-fifth of delegates at the Democratic National Convention in August.
But a string of primary and caucus wins by Senator Obama shifted the momentum of the race – and left many congressional lawmakers and governors who had made early endorsements looking out of sync with their constituents.
Out of sync with voters at home
As of Tuesday, 242 superdelegates have endorsed Clinton and 160 have picked Obama, according to the Associated Press. Among superdelegates who hold elective office and whose states have already held primaries or caucuses, 92 have made public commitments that are at odds with the vote in their states. Here's the breakdown: 21 elected superdelegates back Clinton although their states or districts voted for Obama; 14 back Obama in states that went for Clinton. Another 33 elected superdelegates are uncommitted, although their constituents voted for Obama; 24 are neutral whose constituents voted for Clinton, according to the AP review.
"Our nominee must be chosen by Democratic voters, not by backroom deals of the party elite," says Charles Chamberlain, political director for Democracy for America, which launched a petition drive last Wednesday calling on superdelegates to respect the popular vote. So far, some 55,000 activists have endorsed the Internet petition.
Many superdelegates say they're already getting the message that respecting the popular vote is becoming an expectation.
"I'm not comfortable with the idea that we know better. I will vote as a superdelegate for Hillary Clinton, if she ends up with the most pledged delegates," says Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) of Missouri, who has endorsed Obama. "I'm confident that in my party, which prides itself as being a party of the people, superdelegates will be nominating the one with the most pledged delegates."
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) of the District of Columbia had expected to wait until the August convention to make an endorsement. But the growing backlash to an outsized role for superdelegates prompted her to speak out in favor of the candidate supported by her district. She came out for Obama on the eve of the Feb. 12 D.C. primary, fully expecting that he would win.