Sunday, February 17, 2008

Superdelegates' loyalties tested

Some with black constituencies shift eye to Obama

The outpouring of support for Barack Obama's presidential candidacy in African-American communities is shifting the political calculus for superdelegates with large black constituencies and causing some of them to reconsider promises of support for Hillary Clinton.

Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), who represents a predominantly black suburban Atlanta constituency, announced late in the week that he was shifting his support from Clinton to Obama, citing an overwhelming vote for Obama in his congressional district. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who also endorsed Clinton, was quoted Friday in The New York Times saying he would vote for Obama at the nominating convention, though neither Lewis nor his spokeswoman responded to inquiries about his comments and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted an aide describing the report as "inaccurate."

They and many other black elected officials are experiencing firsthand a powerful movement toward Obama, reflected not only in lopsided votes for him but also a surge in African-American turnout.

In South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia, Obama attracted more than 80 percent of the African-American vote, exit polls showed. Turnout among black voters was up 89 percent in Georgia and more than doubled in South Carolina and Virginia.

Confronted with that political reality at the same moment that Obama has seized the momentum in the campaign for the nomination, more black members of Congress are having second thoughts about endorsements of Clinton, said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), an African-American who is lobbying fellow House members on behalf of the Illinois senator.

"I do know several who are struggling with the issue and are re-evaluating the landscape, re-evaluating the circumstances under which they were supporting Sen. Clinton," said Butterfield, who switched his support from home-state candidate John Edwards to Obama in early January, well before Edwards quit the race.

So far, the movement among black party and elected officials has been small. In addition to Scott and Lewis, Christine Samuels, an African-American politician from New Jersey, also announced Thursday that she would switch her support from Clinton to Obama.

But it is a visible fracture of support for Clinton among a segment of superdelegates that is especially sensitive to arguments from the Obama campaign that party officials should follow the will of their constituents when they cast their votes as superdelegates.

Despite the huge margins of support that Obama has consistently won among African-American voters, black party and elected officials have been much more divided on the presidential nomination. On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, the 43-member Congressional Black Caucus was about evenly divided among those who made public endorsements between Obama and Clinton, and even now 15 African-American members of Congress are announced as Clinton supporters.

Politicians are traditionally reluctant to reverse public endorsements; it devalues their word in future dealings. But a break with a politician's base also can be perilous, and allies of Obama are reminding colleagues of that.

Clinton spokesman Mo Elleithee argued that such tactics amounted to a political threat.

"We believe that superdelegates ought to vote for the person they think would make the best president. It's disappointing that the Obama campaign would engage in threats and tactics like these. It doesn't sound very much like the politics of hope," Elleithee said.

By Mike Dorning, Washington Bureau Tribune correspondent John McCormick contributed from Milwaukee and Tribune correspondent Rick Pearson contributed from Akron, Ohio.

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1 comment:

DemocraticEdge said...

Voters should consider a class action lawsuit to end the process of super-delegates. A case can be made that the super-delegates degrade, and are intended to dilute, the weight of our votes to allow the party elites to determine who gets the nomination of the party. It doesn’t matter whether Hillary or Obama gets the nomination, both will be great democratic leaders. However, the fact that super-delegates have the power to overrule the voters is against the concept of democracy, and harms the voters of this country. A single super-delegate vote can carry as much weight as 50,000 citizen votes.

Do not lose focus on this issue after the primaries are over. While it may turn out that this process does not override the American vote this year, the chances are there for the future. Our votes must be equal to those of the Washington insiders.

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