Clinton, Obama court superdelegates for edge in tight race
Clinton called the Salinas House member over the weekend to chat. She got his voice mail. Farr's daughter was giving birth to a new grandson, and he's not had a chance to call back. He will, he said Wednesday. But, like many uncommitted delegates, he's going to tell her he's going to wait.
"I don't feel the need to make a decision right now," said Farr, whose district includes Santa Cruz and Monterey. "I want to watch this play on. They are both great candidates and it will strengthen the party."
Farr remembers his father, chair of the state's Adlai Stevenson delegation to the 1960 Los Angeles Democratic convention, being taken to lunch by John and Jackie Kennedy, hoping to win him over.
Now that it appears almost certain the race will continue at least until the April 22 Pennsylvania primary, the 271 uncommitted superdelegates are becoming even more of a focus.
In interviews Wednesday with more than a dozen of California's uncommitted superdelegates or their representatives, none of them was ready to announce whom they would back, preferring to let voters have their say - at least for awhile.Several uncommitted superdelegates said they were personally torn and they saw no harm in the race continuing. But others argued a long, drawn-out battle will only help John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, get a jump-start. And they said that though they recognize they have a role to play, they hoped voters, not the superdelegates, would select the eventual nominee.
But they may be stuck with the job.
Unless Obama starts winning again by giant margins, of 70 percent or higher, no one will end with 2,025 pledged delegates to capture the nomination when primaries end in early June.
Enter Farr, one of nearly two dozen uncommitted superdelegates of the state's 65. (Rep. Tom Lantos' death means one fewer delegate from California until his seat is filled.) Nationally, 720 superdelegates have been selected; roughly one-third, or 271, are uncommitted, according to the Associated Press. State parties will choose an additional 75 superdelegates at spring party conventions, bringing the total to 795 by convention time.
Obama leads in delegates, 1,567-to-1,462, and Clinton maintains a 242-to-207 edge in superdelegates, the latest AP survey found. The undecided superdelegates are poised to play a decisive role, though other events could intervene. On Wednesday, there was renewed speculation of whether Florida and Michigan might hold new primaries in hopes of seating delegations. The Obama campaign has started making its case that superdelegates will end up in the Illinois senator's camp because he likely will lead the pledged delegate contest at the end.
"This is uncharted territory," said Larry Gerston, professor of political science at San Jose State University.
"The superdelegates have never mattered since the party created them in the 1970s. It's certainly an awkward role," Gerston said.
"Some are genuinely split between two good candidates, others want to be strategic with their votes so they end up on the right side."
Biding their time
Many, notably 11 members of Congress from California who remain uncommitted, seemed to be taking their cue from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who Wednesday urged that no one rush to a decision.
"I think the electoral process has to work its way," the San Francisco Democrat told reporters. "There are still many voters unheard from yet, and I think that our candidates both have the capacity to inspire, to bring out a big vote that will hold us in good stead in November, and I think that now is not the time for anybody to weigh in."
But that didn't mean the campaigns and other interested parties haven't been working hard to persuade. Uncommitted superdelegates report being lobbied by friends, family members, fellow diners and constituents. One uncommitted superdelegate said he received five phone calls from a Clinton supporter while watching Tuesday's returns from Texas and Ohio. Another's wife and daughters, all Clinton supporters, said he has been worked over by his family, though they respect his independence. Carole Migden of San Francisco, in a tight race to keep her state Senate seat, is asking constituents and others to register their thoughts on her Web site. She said Wednesday that those comments will play "a small role" in her final decision.
Barbara Boxer, one of the state's best-known superdelegates, has confused some by her stance. Boxer does not plan to endorse Clinton or Obama as long as both are running. But even though she has not thrown her support to either candidate, she does plan to vote for Clinton at the convention because Clinton won the California primary. Saying "the will of the voters is paramount," she hopes the superdelegates do not decide the nominee at the convention.
"Part of me says, 'Let's make the most of this.' We're seeing a record number of people turning out in state after state. There is tremendous excitement in states that we will need this fall. But this is dangerous territory - you try to control what your supporters say, but you can't always do that."
In the meantime, the uncommitted can expect the pressure to only increase.
Crystal Strait, a 28-year-old youth activist in Sacramento, said she's as conflicted on her decision as she ever was, even after fielding calls from the entire Clinton family, including daughter Chelsea, who is also 28. Strait wants to cast her superdelegate vote to support the candidate who shows most interest in mobilizing young people. But so far, both Clinton and Obama are coming up even, she said.
Many of her friends, through calls and e-mails, are trying to help her make up her mind. One of them even left a message on her voicemail, she said, pretending to be Obama.
"It's easy to get caught up in the Obama momentum, then you see Clinton making huge victories and it's easy to get caught up in that," she said.