The 796 Democratic superdelegates have emerged as a focal point for confusion and controversy in the contest between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. (Even the name has been a source of dispute. While they are technically called "unpledged party leader and elected official delegates," the Clinton campaign prefers the term "automatic delegates.") Representing about one-fifth of all delegates involved in choosing the party's nominee, the group consists of, among others, Democratic National Committee members; current and former presidents and vice presidents; all current members of Congress and governors; and all former speakers of the House, House minority leaders, Senate leaders and DNC chairs. They were the creation of a commission of party leaders chaired by former North Carolina governor Jim Hunt, in a move intended to bolster what some argued was the deteriorating role of party leaders in the nominating process. Unlike "pledged" delegates, superdelegates are free to support whomever they choose for the nomination. The decision by many officeholders to back Clinton despite the fact that a majority of their constituents voted for Obama led to the accusation from Obama supporters that they are trying to act as kingmakers. In the past weeks, a number of superdelegates, including Rep. John Lewis (Ga.), a civil rights icon, have switched their allegiance. In the weeks ahead, pressure on them to help bring an end to the contest - and to unify the party - is expected to only intensify.
SOURCE: Associated Press, Roll Call | GRAPHIC: Lucy Shackelford and Laura Stanton, The Washington Post - March 3, 2008