Video| Ohio o8′ Democratic Debate
Democratic superdelegate Dwight Pelz, chairman of the Washington state party, one of many uncommitted superdelegates, has his fingers crossed that the party’s Presidential nominee will be decided well before the August national convention.
“God forbid should we go to August with a convention that’s still up in the air,” Pelz said. “I’m going to be watching polls in May, June, July looking for signs of who is most electable against McCain.”
With Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama locked in a competitive contest for their party’s presidential nomination, superdelegates find themselves under a microscope, well aware that the party’s decision could come down to them, especially if the big primaries remaining don’t prove to be decisive.
Some superdelegates have already pledged their support. While the tallies can be in flux, especially if Obama’s momentum shakes loose some Clinton supporters, the latest count by the Associated Press has Clinton with 241.5 (Democrats abroad have half delegates) to Obama’s 188.
But other superdelegates believe that for now, it’s their duty to remain neutral.
Pelz is one of them. He says as long as the nominee remains uncertain, he won’t announce support for Clintor or Obama.
“I represent all the Democrats in the state and we have excellent people supporting Hillary and excellent people supporting Barack,” Pelz told CQ Politics. “It’s not my role to disappoint them or to make them have anything but confidence that the party is remaining neutral.”
Pelz has served as state party chairman for two years and formerly served as a King County council member and state Senator. This is the first election in which he’s a superdelegate.
Superdelegates are unpledged party leaders and elected officials who cast a vote in support of a party nominee at the Democratic national convention, which is scheduled to take place in Denver Aug. 25-28. There are 795 superdelegates and they compose about 20 percent of the total number of delegates, 4,049 (which excludes Michigan and Florida) as of the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC’s) most recent update Feb. 13.
A Democratic candidate needs 2,025 delegates to secure the party nomination. Obama currently claims 1375 delegates and Clinton has 1277, according to the Associated Press. Those estimates include preferences expressed by superdelegates surveyed by the AP.
Pelz said his decision will ultimately be based on two factors: the preference expressed by Washington state Democrats, as reported in the Feb. 9 caucus; and which candidate Pelz believes is best suited to take on the presumptive Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain . Obama won the Washington state caucus with 68 percent to 31 percent for Clinton with 96 percent of total reported.
With fewer than 100 delegates separating the two Democratic candidates, both campaigns are lobbying hard for superdelegate support, but Pelz said he hasn’t noticed that yet. When asked if his life has changed surrounding his superdelegate role, Pelz responded “not really,” adding that the level of contact he’s received is consistent with the amount of contact he receives pertaining to his regular duties as a party chairman, even in non-election years.
Pelz suggested he is in the “chicken-hearted camp” of superdelegates. He hopes the choice of nominee will be clear before crunch time but plans, if necessary, to announce his decision on the plane heading into Denver.
“[DNC chairman] Howard Dean was in town last week and said if we’re divided going in, we’re divided coming out,” Pelz said. “I think it would be good if this were settled in March or April or may but I understand that if these two candidates are tied with each other, they’re going to take this to the floor of the convention.
Many voters are wary that superdelegates may choose a candidate other than the one who received a majority of primary voter support.
Pelz said that in his state, the party received so many emails “at random” from voters on whom the superdelegates should support, he decided to formalize the process. He asked voters to directly “lobby”, the Washington State Democratic Central Committee’s six superdelegates: Pelz; Vice Chair Eileen Macoll; and DNC members Ed Cote, Sharon Mast, David McDonald and Patt Notter.
Pelz estimated that in the first five days following their call to voters, the party received 4,000 messages lobbying superdelegates on behalf of their candidate of choice. The party hasn’t yet tallied those votes.
The competitive nature of the race has created party divisions that Pelz and others hope to avoid, but Pelz remains confident that Democrats can resolve their differences.
“We’re all adults,” Pelz said. “We’ll either take this in stride or be mad at each other or some shade in between… I generally think Democrats are united: we have two good candidates.”