In D.C. Area, a Superdelegate Tug of War

"This is the most stressful thing I've been through in my whole life," says Virginia Del. Jennifer L. McClellan, once a Clinton supporter, now undecided. (By Bob Brown -- Richmond Times Dispatch Via Associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Tim Craig, John Wagner and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, May 3, 2008

Maryland Democratic Party Vice Chairman Lauren Glover is fielding calls from Sen. Barack Obama. Jim Leaman, executive director of the Virginia AFL-CIO, is being inundated with personal letters and e-mails from supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. And D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. just wants to be left alone.

Pressure is mounting on the 67 Democratic superdelegates from the District, Maryland and Virginia to choose between Obama and Clinton in the most heated presidential nomination fight in a generation.

With neither Clinton nor Obama likely to win enough pledged delegates to secure the nomination, the 793 superdelegates nationwide will have the final say on who will face Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive GOP nominee. Clinton is ahead in commitments from area superdelegates, but several said they are undecided and others said they are considering switching.

Clinton (N.Y.) and Obama (Ill.), as well as their official surrogates and rank-and-file supporters, are fighting for every superdelegate vote, launching aggressive campaigns across the region to sway the outcome at the convention in August in Denver.

"This is the most stressful thing I've been through in my whole life," said Virginia Del. Jennifer L. McClellan (D-Richmond), a superdelegate who endorsed Clinton last year but is now wavering. "It was never supposed to be like this."

The superdelegates from the District, Maryland and Virginia are being cornered in grocery stores by their constituents. Some have been threatened with retribution if they vote for one candidate or the other. And many of them now dread the personal phone calls from Obama or Clinton and their surrogates.

Similar scenes are playing out across the country, but the efforts to persuade superdelegates are particularly intense in the Washington region.

Obama scored decisive victories in the Feb. 12 Potomac Primary. But Clinton leads in commitments among the area's superdelegates in part because she and her husband go back years with many of them.

In the District, she is supported by 10 of the 24 superdelegates, most of whom are longtime Clinton loyalists, including her senior strategist, Harold Ickes. Many of the superdelegates with more local ties are backing Obama.

Of the 27 superdelegates in Maryland, nine are pledged to Clinton, including Gov. Martin O'Malley and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. Of the 16 superdelegates from Virginia, six are pledged to Clinton. Her superdelegate support in Virginia includes Del. Lionell Spruill Sr. (D-Chesapeake), who, like McClellan, is African American and unsure whether he will stick with Clinton.

"I'll decide after the primaries," Spruill said last week.

Four superdelegates in the District are undecided. Anita Bonds, chairman of the D.C. Democratic Committee, said that she is in charge of shepherding the process and that she believes she should remain neutral as long as possible so as not to sway the delegates.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company