Influential Democrats Waiting to Choose Sides

Democratic voters in Wyoming submit their ballots at a caucus site in Casper. With 22 out of 23 precincts reporting, Barack Obama was declared the winner.
Democratic voters in Wyoming submit their ballots at a caucus site in Casper. With 22 out of 23 precincts reporting, Barack Obama was declared the winner. (By David Zalubowski -- Associated Press)
By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's trio of victories over Sen. Barack Obama last week appears to have convinced a sizable number of uncommitted Democratic superdelegates to wait until the end of the primaries and caucuses before picking a candidate, according to a survey by The Washington Post.

Many of the 80 uncommitted superdelegates who were contacted over the past several days said they are reluctant to override the clear will of voters. But if Clinton (N.Y.) and Obama (Ill.) are still seen as relatively close in the pledged, or elected, delegate count in June, many said, they will feel free to decide for themselves which of the candidates would make a stronger nominee to run against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the fall.

"You're going to see a lot of delegates remaining uncommitted," said Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.), who has not endorsed either candidate. "There's a sense that this is going to Denver not resolved."

Obama's victory in yesterday's Wyoming caucuses gave him an additional seven delegates, bringing his total to 1,578. Clinton won five delegates, bringing her total to 1,468, according to the Associated Press. Obama had 61 percent of the votes to Clinton's 38 percent.

At the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August, there will be 796 superdelegates -- members of Congress, governors, mayors, and state and national party leaders who have automatic seats -- and more than 300 are still uncommitted.

To win the nomination, Obama or Clinton will need a total of 2,025 pledged delegates and superdelegates. That is, unless Michigan's and Florida's delegations, now barred because the states violated party primary rules, end up being seated at the convention. Then the winning number would be higher, depending on how many delegates the two states are awarded.

Pat Waak, who chairs the Colorado Democratic Party, expressed the view of many uncommitted superdelegates who hope the remaining primaries and caucuses will produce an obvious winner. "My hope is that there's a clear lead among pledged delegates and the popular vote before we get to the convention, so that the automatic delegates can reflect what's happening nationally," she said. "I'm just very hopeful that it's not up to us."

But Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury said that if there is no clear leader, he is prepared to exercise his judgment. "If the pledged-delegate total is within 100 votes or whatever, I don't think there's a great deal of significance in that," said Bradbury, who also represents other secretaries of state as a superdelegate.

He added: "I just believe that the determining factor for superdelegates shouldn't be, 'Well, 49 percent voted for Hillary and 51 percent voted for Obama, and that decides it for us.' Sorry, but that's not how it works."

By winning in Wyoming, Obama recaptures a little of the momentum he lost when Clinton defeated him in three out of four states last Tuesday. Until then he had reeled off 11 straight victories, pushing Clinton to the verge of defeat.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said that the Wyoming victory speaks to the candidate's strength in the West and that Obama is better suited to help down-ticket Democrats, even in states that traditionally vote Republican in the general election. "I think it's evidence that Senator Obama is going to be able to put more states in play because of his strength with independent voters," Plouffe told the Associated Press.

This Tuesday, Clinton and Obama will square off in Mississippi, with Obama heavily favored. Next on the calendar is Pennsylvania, whose April 22 primary offers the single biggest delegate haul of the remaining contests. The Keystone State tilts toward Clinton at this point.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company