By Shailagh Murray and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 14, 2008
Having mastered the art of town-hall meetings on the campaign trail, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is now holding them in a more comfortable setting: her living room.
On Wednesday night, the Democratic presidential candidate held a private reception for several dozen members of Congress at her house on Whitehaven Street in Kalorama. Most of the guests were confirmed supporters, many from New York and Arkansas, making it something of a friends-and-family event.
But the real mission of the evening was to court lawmakers -- who are also superdelegates in the party's nominating process -- especially those from some of the biggest states. And at least one, Rep. Jason Altmire (Pa.), used the session to pose the kinds of questions voters usually aim at him rather than treating it as a polite political cocktail party.
Officially undecided on which candidate to back, Altmire said he asked Clinton what she expects superdelegates to do if Sen. Barack Obama winds up winning the popular vote and more state delegates. As of last night, Obama had 1,602 overall delegates to Clinton's 1,497, according to an Associated Press tally. A total of 2,025 delegates are needed to secure the nomination.
Clinton replied that superdelegates exist for a reason and should use their own judgment about which candidate would be best in the general election. But Altmire said he is not so sure.
"If Senator Obama is in that position, it's going to be very hard to overturn that," Altmire, a freshman lawmaker from the western part of Pennsylvania, said yesterday. But he added: "She's likely to do really well in my district and in Pennsylvania, so that's another consideration." He said that he has been bombarded with calls from both campaigns, but that he does not mind.
"I really want to hear from both sides," Altmire said. "I feel an obligation to do as much as I can to get to know the two candidates."
The two-hour event (cocktails, followed by brief remarks from the candidate and a gather-round-the-hearth question session) came as Clinton and Obama returned to Washington for their day jobs in the Senate, where they crossed paths and were also immersed in the pool of superdelegates who work alongside them on Capitol Hill. Clinton's event focused on House members -- a letter sent out afterward said about 60 attended -- and Obama also was reportedly meeting with unaligned members yesterday .
After the Clinton reception, Chris Haylor, a campaign official, sent out a memo listing the undecided lawmakers who had attended and asking for help with lobbying them. "We encourage you all to seek them out today and thank them for attending and to get their feedback," he wrote. "We want to make sure we strike while the iron is hot."
Among those on Haylor's list were several Southerners (Rep. Robert E. "Bud" Cramer of Alabama; Reps. Lincoln Davis and Bart Gordon of Tennessee; and Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina), as well as a handful of Californians (Reps. Susan A. Davis, Sam Farr and Bob Filner) an Oklahoman (Rep. Dan Boren) and an Arizonan (Rep. Gabrielle Giffords).