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Showdown in Wisconsin

Clinton, Obama Dispute Roles of Superdelegates

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By Peter Slevin and Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 17, 2008

MILWAUKEE, Feb. 16 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday urged the Democratic Party's unpledged delegates to make their own decisions about whether to support her or Sen. Barack Obama, predicting that the battle for the Democratic nomination will continue into the summer.

"Superdelegates are a part of the process. They are supposed to exercise independent judgment," said Clinton (N.Y.), who wants to put into play hundreds of the unelected delegates, as well as large contingents from Michigan and Florida, where the candidates did not campaign.

Clinton trails Obama (Ill.) in the count of pledged delegates, awarded on the basis of primary and caucus results. She said she believes superdelegates, appointed by the party, should not simply anoint the candidate who is leading after the primary season.

Clinton's remarks came as she arrived in Wisconsin ahead of Tuesday's primary. Although she will cut her visit short by a half-day, she is waging a vigorous fight, hoping to blunt Obama's momentum in a state that offers advantages to each.

Obama, who holds a narrow lead in two recent polls, won the last eight Democratic primaries and caucuses, but he trails Clinton in superdelegate endorsements. He contends that superdelegates should back the candidate who wins the most pledged delegates.

Clinton strategist Harold Ickes, himself a superdelegate, told reporters Saturday that the delegates should exercise "their best judgment in the interests of the party and the country."

Ickes also pressed the Clinton campaign's attempt to validate the results of voting in Michigan and Florida. The states were stripped of their delegates after they moved their primaries in defiance of the Democratic National Committee.

Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign in either state, and Obama and John Edwards removed their names from the Michigan ballot. Clinton, who beat a ballot slot labeled "uncommitted" in Michigan and won easily in the uncontested Florida primary, contends Democrats in the two states would be disfranchised unless their delegates are seated at the party's convention.

The Clinton campaign opposes a proposal to hold new primaries or caucuses.

"We don't need a redo," said Ickes, who voted as a Democratic rules committee member to penalize the states. He said of Michigan: "The people have spoken there."

Obama told reporters on Friday that he played by the rules, and the rules should be honored.

"Even my 6-year-old daughter would understand it would not be fair for Senator Clinton to be awarded delegates," Obama said, adding without elaboration that there are "probably a slew of different solutions" that would fairly give the delegations a convention role.

Obama and Clinton have traded barbs for days as they competed for Wisconsin's 74 pledged delegates and positioned themselves for the potentially pivotal March 4 primaries in Ohio and Texas. Clinton bought extra time on television stations across the state to broadcast an advertisement criticizing her rival's record, while Obama has responded to Clinton's push with sharp-edged ads of his own.

They crossed paths here on Saturday night at a Wisconsin Democratic Party dinner, speaking back to back to a large crowd.

In a sign of the intensity of the competition, Obama scheduled a rally near Appleton for Sunday after initially planning a day off. He will return to the state on Monday following a brief trip to Ohio.

Late last week, Clinton launched an advertisement that challenged Obama's record on health care and energy policy. She also accused him of refusing to debate her.

"We've had 18 debates. Eighteen debates!" Obama told a crowd in Green Bay, an assertion the campaign also made in a television spot. "But that's what happens when you've been in Washington a long time. Your attitude becomes, 'I'll just say whatever might work to win an election.' "

The Democratic rivals are due to debate each other in Texas on Thursday and in Ohio on Feb. 26.


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