Dayton's Mayor, A Superdelegate With 'No' of Steel

Mayor Rhine McLin, a superdelegate, says she'll support whomever Dayton votes for.
Mayor Rhine McLin, a superdelegate, says she'll support whomever Dayton votes for. (By Chris Stewart -- Dayton Daily News)
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By Kevin Merida
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 4, 2008

DAYTON, Ohio -- You'd think someone would have invented a Superdelegate Cape by now. Let's make that cape red. Then all the Democratic Party insiders could don their bright capes as a symbol of the extraordinary power they hold over their party's presidential nominating competition. And everybody would know where they are every minute.

Here's the deal: There are 796 party VIPs (once a replacement for the late Rep. Tom Lantos is named) who will serve as unpledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention this summer, meaning they are not bound by primary or caucus results, meaning they can choose whichever candidate moves them, meaning they can commit, rescind their commitment, flip and flop like whales if they want to. Some of them already have. Who are these people? Members of Congress, governors, former presidents and vice presidents, former party chairmen, former House and Senate leaders, and DNC members nobody has ever heard of.

Here's the deal: Barack Obama leads Hillary Clinton in total delegates pledged through voting, 1187 to 1035, according to the Associated Press's tally. Hardly anyone thinks that either candidate can amass the 2,025 delegates needed to secure the nomination without the help of the caped crusaders, all of whom are closely watching the outcomes of contests today in Ohio, Texas, Vermont and Rhode Island.

Should Obama do well and Clinton not close in on his delegate lead, pressure will mount on the superdelegates for an intervention. And by intervention, we mean either private nudges to Clinton to get out of the race or a flood of endorsements for Obama to create the same effect. The Clinton team's plea to superdelegates, who represent about a fifth of the delegate total: Hold on. Watch how we roll.

Here's the deal: Clinton leads Obama in superdelegates, 241 to 199, according to the AP. That leaves 356 whose intentions are unknown or who are uncommitted and whose lives are now full of extra drama. Surely they could use some kind of weaponry, some lasers or swords to go with their capes, to fend off all the bothersome entreaties. They've had their dinners interrupted at home, been reached on cellphones while getting pizza with friends. Actors have called, neighbors have stopped them on the street, even relatives have urged them to do the right thing. And the presidential contenders and their families? They've been relentless.

Which brings us to superdelegate Rhine McLin, the petite mayor of Dayton, who has handled the pressure splendidly. Which is to say she has tried mostly to avoid it. "I get really nervous about a lot of attention," she says.

Hillary Clinton called three times, husband Bill twice, daughter Chelsea twice. No Clinton could ever seem to reach McLin. "I got the numbers," she explains, "but I just didn't call them back. I just never felt the need to get on board, and I didn't want the push."

If it's any consolation to the Clintons, she treated the Obama clan much the same way. Michelle Obama called, as did many Obama surrogates. But none got return calls. The candidate himself, however, got lucky. He happened to call when McLin was sitting in her City Hall office, and she took the call. "I'd like to have you on board," the Illinois senator pitched. McLin was polite but resolute. She planned to stay neutral.

"I'm in an awkward position in the first place," she says. "I'm vice chairman of the state party. I'm a woman." She pauses. "Of color."

She sees some wonderful things in both candidates. So she made a decision: She will back whichever candidate carries her city of 167,000. "I'm putting the power into the people. I make decisions every day. There are not a lot of opportunities to have your constituents make a decision for you. They'll get to tell me exactly what they want. And that's how I see it."

You might think that would be the end of it, that people would leave her alone. But they were still calling yesterday.

Some pitches she didn't like. Mark Alexander, a senior adviser to the Obama campaign, accompanied Newark Mayor Cory Booker to Dayton recently. McLin likes mayors, and is always hospitable to them. She met Booker at the Old Spaghetti Warehouse downtown (she won't meet surrogates at campaign events, so as not to give a false impression of support). She took a photo with him but made him cover up his Obama button. Booker was fine with all that. Alexander, on the other hand, was rather pushy, she thought. He talked about making history (an argument she deplores), urged her to "come out now if you're going to come out," according to the mayor, and told her she could share a stage with Obama before 10,000 screaming supporters. Wouldn't she enjoy that kind of limelight? Alexander must have misread this mayor. "I certainly thought we had a good meeting," he said. "I don't think of myself as a pushy person. I thought we left it open to further conversation. I want her to be part of our campaign."

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