Clinton Backers Rebuke Pelosi for Stance on Superdelegates

By Dan Balz and Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 27, 2008

Top fundraisers for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign upbraided House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) yesterday for suggesting that Democratic superdelegates should back the candidate with the most pledged delegates and urged her to respect the right of those delegates to back whomever they choose at the end of the primary season.

The criticism represented the latest effort by Clinton's campaign and its allies to beat back talk that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has amassed enough of a lead in pledged delegates that she will not be able to overtake him, and arguments that a continuation of the conflict between the two candidates will hurt the party in November.

"You suggested [in a recent television interview] superdelegates have an obligation to support the candidate who leads in the pledged delegate count as of June 3rd, whether that lead be by 500 delegates or 2," the Clinton backers wrote. "This is an untenable position that runs counter to the party's intent in establishing super-delegates in 1984."

Arguing that neither Obama nor Clinton (D-N.Y.) will have amassed the 2,024 delegates needed to win the nomination by time the primary season ends in June, the fundraisers urged Pelosi "to clarify your position on superdelegates and reflect in your comments a more open view to the optional independent actions of each of the delegates at the national convention in August."

Clinton, in an interview with Time magazine published yesterday, accused the Obama campaign of trying "to shut this race down" and noted that even pledged delegates are not legally bound to support the candidate to whom they are pledged. "We talk a lot about so-called pledged delegates, but every delegate is expected to exercise independent judgment," she said.

Pelosi has not endorsed either candidate. Brendan Daly, her spokesman, said that the speaker recognizes that superdelegates will choose between the candidates but that she "believes it would do great harm to the Democratic Party if superdelegates are perceived to overturn the will of the voters. This has been her position throughout this primary season, regardless of who was ahead at any particular point in delegates or votes."

Obama spokesman Bill Burton in an e-mail criticized what he saw as an implied threat by the group to withhold funds from Democratic Party campaign committees.

Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television and one of the organizers of the letter to Pelosi, said in an interview that there would be "no effect" on contributions to the party among the signers of the letter. "This is just fair play," he said.

Johnson added that he and the others want to make certain the nomination battle is not declared over prematurely. "It's not the role of the leadership to say 'Vote only the way the pledged delegates go,' " he said.

But the letter made it clear that the fundraisers believe their voice should carry real weight with the speaker. Noting their past financial support, they wrote, "We . . . hope you will be responsive to some of your major enthusiastic supporters."

Clinton, accompanied by daughter Chelsea Clinton, was in Washington yesterday for a pair of fundraising events. Obama is holding four events in New York City. The first of those, at the Madison Avenue offices of Credit Suisse, a financial services giant, will include a "campaign briefing," according to the invitation. Guests will be charged a minimum of $1,000 to attend.

Clinton raised $35 million last month, all but $5 million online, but her campaign supporters concede that she still relies on a traditional model of fundraising.

"The Obama campaign has found a model that works for them, that has enabled them to raise vast amounts of money online," said Steve Grossman, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a member of Clinton's finance team. "The Clintons, both Hillary and the president, have a virtually inexhaustible treasure trove of relationships they have developed over the years, and they reached out time and time again to those people."

Chelsea Clinton's appearance came a day after she rebuked a student at Butler University in Indianapolis on Tuesday who asked whether her mother's credibility had been hurt during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

"Wow, you're the first person actually that's ever asked me that question in the, I don't know, maybe 70 college campuses I've now been to, and I do not think that is any of your business," Clinton said, getting loud applause from the audience, according to the Associated Press.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company