Democratic hopefuls woo superdelegates
Democratic hopefuls woo superdelegates
By BETH FOUHY, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 29
NEW YORK - It's more than half a year and a few
snowstorms until the first votes in Iowa, yet
Democratic presidential hopefuls have already captured
some of the delegates critical to winning the
Not just any delegates "superdelegates," the party's
top echelon of elected officials who can back a
candidate at any time no matter what the calendar,
caucus-goer or primary voter says. Candidates have
been pursuing endorsements from Democratic governors
and members of Congress, knowing these individuals
will have a direct say in choosing the party's
The 235 Democratic House members and nonvoting
representatives, 49 senators, the District of
Columbia's two "shadow senators" and 28 governors
total 314 about 14 percent of the 2,182 delegates a
candidate will need to secure the party's presidential
nomination at next year's national convention in
Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack
Obama (news, bio, voting record) of Illinois, the
Democratic front-runners, have established
sophisticated "whip" operations to woo undecided
colleagues. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards
has engaged the talents of his campaign manager, a
former House Democratic whip, to court the
With eight months to go before voters begin choosing
delegates through the primary process, many Democrats
view the early accumulation of superdelegates as savvy
planning for the future. Unfortunately for the
presidential hopefuls, superdelegates can be
fair-weather allies who aren't formally bound to any
particular candidate and can shift their loyalties at
Phil McNamara, director of delegate selection for the
Democratic National Committee, put it this way: "These
people are politicians. In the end, they'll support
whomever is the nominee and they'll still get to go to
Even so, the candidates are all pursuing the support
of superdelegates, making personal appeals and
enlisting the help of colleagues.
Clinton has mounted the most aggressive program to
court superdelegates, winning endorsements from 37 so
far, including three Senate colleagues and the
governors of Maryland, New Jersey and New York. She's
even deputized several House members as "whips" to woo
uncommitted colleagues. The group includes Ohio Rep.
Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, Florida Rep. Debbie
Wasserman-Schultz, and New York Reps. Nita Lowey
(news, bio, voting record) and Joseph Crowley (news,
bio, voting record).
In an interview, Crowley said the effort has morphed a
bit since it began in March, when the Clinton whips
initially tried to target lawmakers from specific
"We have an initial strategy of breaking it down into
regions, but more often than not it's based on your
own relationships with people, that level of comfort,"
Part of the sales pitch, Crowley said, is emphasizing
that an early endorsement is usually remembered as
more meaningful than signing on later in the campaign.
"You say it's always good to be in early. Clearly,
when you have a lot of good candidates out there,
regionality comes into play, but she has a broad
wingspan beyond New York," he said.
Clinton's lead rival, Obama, tries to frame his
campaign as a grass-roots, bottom-up enterprise. But
he, too, has been courting endorsements and has picked
up 22, including his Illinois Senate colleague Dick
Durbin and the governors of Virginia and Illinois.
The campaign also has its own whip operation, with
Alabama Rep. Artur Davis (news, bio, voting record),
Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Florida Rep.
Robert Wexler (news, bio, voting record) playing
In an interview, Wexler said his courtship of
undecided House members on Obama's behalf was so
intense, "It's almost a joke but in a nice way."
As an example, Wexler said he had spoken extensively
with Rep. Russ Carnahan (news, bio, voting record)
about Obama before the Missouri Democrat made his
"He sought me out and asked questions, asked why I got
involved so early," Wexler said. "For some members of
Congress who are neutral and still making up their
minds, it provides a degree of comfort knowing there
are other members of Congress, not from Illinois, who
are strongly supporting Sen. Obama."
Edwards counts 15 congressional endorsements so far,
including several House members from his home state.
Edwards' campaign manager David Bonior, a former
Michigan congressman and House Democratic whip, called
the endorsement effort "one piece of a very large
puzzle." He said he spends considerable time on it,
both on the phone and in frequent visits to Capitol
Hill, including one Tuesday. He also relies on help
from several members who have already endorsed
Edwards, including Tennessee Rep. Bart Stupak (news,
bio, voting record), South Dakota Rep. Stephanie
Herseth (news, bio, voting record) Sandlin and Texas
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (news, bio, voting record).
"These people are validators who are telling voters
that John Edwards is a great candidate to be
president," Bonior said. "When people agree to endorse
you, it's very much what they're saying."
Among the other Democratic candidates, Connecticut
Sen. Chris Dodd has eight superdelegates, including
all the House Democrats from his home state. Delaware
Sen. Joe Biden has one so far: his home state
colleague in the Senate, Tom Carper.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who served 15
years in the House, has won endorsements from New
Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman (news, bio, voting record)
and three House members.
Associated Press Writer Devlin Barrett in Washington
contributed to this report.