For Superdelegates, 'Huge Relief' at End of Primary Season

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) clinches enough pledged delegates to secure the Democratic nomination, as polls closed in the last state primary elections in South Dakota and Montana, June 3, 2008.
By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The novelty of famous suitors and media interviews long ago eroded into exhaustion, and now state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter of South Carolina is just plain sick of all this. An undecided superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention in August, she opens her e-mail inbox each morning and deletes a handful of threatening notes sent by strangers. Campaign followers call her incessantly. She struggles to find time to run her own campaign for reelection.

Like many of the other 150 or so superdelegates who remain uncommitted, Cobb-Hunter vowed early on to decide between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) only after every state had its chance to vote. Her wait ends tonight, after Montana and South Dakota hold the final Democratic primaries.

"Honestly, it's going to be over with and it's going to be a huge relief," Cobb-Hunter said. "The candidate is going to be such an obvious choice after the end of the primaries that nobody will care one way or another if I commit or not, and that's just great."

The party will send 796 superdelegates to the convention in Denver, and most of them have already committed to Obama. The ones who haven't committed to him or to Clinton have various reasons.

Some members of Congress are concerned about offending constituents who support the other candidate. Coloradans may think they should remain neutral because they will host the convention. Then there are leading party officials, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, who have presented themselves as honest brokers in the nomination process.

Several superdelegates contacted yesterday said they spent the past six months waiting, sometimes impatiently, for voters to reach a consensus before expressing opinions of their own.

Richard Ray, president of the Georgia AFL-CIO, did not want his views to affect other voters because "the truth is, I'm not any smarter than anybody else." Gray Sasser, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, felt awkward speaking for his party before one candidate emerged as a clear-cut favorite.

But after today's primaries, the uncommitted superdelegates acknowledge they will have nothing much to wait for. With the primary season behind them and a final ruling delivered on the fate of the Florida and Michigan delegations, they have all the information they need -- and much of it points to Obama.

"The vast majority of state party chairs have remained neutral throughout this process to wait and see what people decide, and it looks like they've pretty much decided," Sasser said. "I don't want to wait until August to announce who I'm supporting, and I don't think many people do. This is a matter of getting the party unified behind one candidate. Tuesday represents the last data points we are going to collect, and the moment of decision is drawing close for all of us."

Many of the superdelegates agreed that waiting, not deciding, has proved their greatest challenge. As the primary season extended through the spring, they found themselves at the center of the whirlwind, with their neutrality constantly scrutinized by officials in the two campaigns, bloggers, ardent supporters of Clinton or Obama, and in some instances the candidates themselves.

Belkis Leong-Hong, from Maryland, took interview calls from news outlets in China and Germany. Yolanda Wheat, from Missouri, stopped granting interviews. "It's too much," she said.

"You hear people accuse us undecideds of playing coy, like we're waiting for the right moment and then trying to get some big position in Washington," Ray said. "But if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. I could have done the easy thing: commit to Obama after he did well in Georgia. But I'm making sure, in my own mind and in my own heart, that if I cast that one little vote that I'm responsible for, I'm doing the right thing."

Cobb-Hunter said: "It would have been easy to be done and decided with all this a long time ago. But now I'm feeling better, because I've let the people have their say and it's all going to be over pretty soon."

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