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Published: Sunday, 2/24/2008

Super delegates take center stage in tight race

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

If Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama end up in a tie for the Democratic nomination for president, it could be as if the primaries never had taken place.

And while smoke-filled rooms are a thing of the past, closed-door discussions among powerful people are not.

The Democratic National Convention in August could come down to old-fashioned political horse-trading.

Why? Because of super delegates.

The Democratic Party s complicated delegate selection process includes 795 super delegates party honchos and elected officials who have a vote at the convention and aren t pledged to any candidate.

Some say it s a recipe for party bossism.

Others say the super delegates, especially those who are elected officials, will take their cue from how the Democratic voters in their congressional districts and states vote.

We want to reflect our people and how they vote, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) said.

But she also has attempted to wield her importance as a super delegate to get the candidates to pay attention.

She invited Senator Clinton and Senator Obama to join her on a trip away from the media-driven markets and into the real Ohio.

We will use our power, and the super-delegate power appears to be growing. We will not give our commitment lightly, Miss Kaptur told The Blade.

So far, neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Obama has said yes to the Kaptur tour.

Overall, Ohio has 162 convention delegates at stake on March 4. Of those, 92 will be awarded based on the outcome in the state s 18 congressional districts and 49 will be awarded at-large based on the statewide vote.

Northwest Ohio includes parts of three congressional districts: the 9th, represented by Miss Kaptur, and the 5th and 4th with a total of 14 delegates.

The list of Ohio s super delegates includes the eight Democratic members of Congress, Gov. Ted Strickland, state Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, and 11 others picked from the ranks of party leaders and members of the Democratic National Committee who live in Ohio.

Of them, only five have declared a preference for Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama.

Focusing on issues

Rhine McLin, mayor of Dayton, is still neutral between potentially the first black president or the first female president: I m a female and I m a woman of color, she said.

She said she wants to know what the candidates will do on the issues that afflict urban Ohio housing foreclosures, jobs, education, the elderly, and infrastructure.

Regardless, the vote in Dayton and Montgomery County is going to be very, very persuasive of how I would vote.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said he s staying neutral, at least through March 4.

A lot can happen between now and August. I ve been trying to get both candidates to talk about the issues that matter to Ohio, Mr. Brown said.

He said his major concern is the economy and addressing the negative impact of international free trade on Ohio s manufacturing base.

They re both engaged in this set of issues that s important to Ohio. They re close to my satisfaction, but not to the degree of specificity I m looking for, Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Redfern said he, as chairman, is trying to stay completely neutral.

I serve a lot of folks 3.5 million Ohioans who consider themselves to be Democrats or who vote Democratic traditionally. The first Tuesday in March will have an impact on me, he said.

He said the super-delegate system, along with the rest of the process for nominating a presidential candidate, was created in 1982 to ensure that whoever is the nominee is the strongest candidate possible.

I m not dismissing the idea that the popular vote is important in making one s decision. It will be important to me, but I don t want anyone to think the super delegate is bound by what happens in their neighborhood or county or congressional district or state, Mr. Redfern said.

He said he thinks all the super delegates should have reserved their neutrality until the convention gets under way.

What you ve seen already is a handful of delegates putting their finger in the air and switching midstream. That reflects poorly on the party, he said.

Lining up early

Mrs. Clinton is seen by some to have powerful support in Ohio. Governor Strickland has endorsed her and is actively supporting her, including speaking on her behalf at a Friday-night rally at Toledo s Whitmer High School.

Mr. Redfern said how the super delegates decide their vote could be complicated.

He gave the example of Enid Goubeaux, former Democratic chairman of Darke County.

Should she be listening to the voters in Greenville or Darke County or the voters in Ohio? he asked.

Several of the remaining super delegates are union leaders.

Sonny Nardi, an official with the Teamsters union, declared his support for Mr. Obama one day after his union endorsed Mr. Obama.

An open convention?

With the direction the contests are going, a role for the super delegates seems likely.

The close race between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama has raised the possibility of an open nominating convention for the first time since 1984.

That year, former Vice President Walter Mondale needed super delegates to wrap up the nomination against fellow Democrats Gary Hart and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

At this point in the primary and caucus schedule, Mr. Obama has an estimated 1,360 delegates and Mrs. Clinton has an estimated 1,266 delegates, counting the super delegates who have declared.

The convention has a total of 4,050 delegates to be awarded, and the nominee needs a minimum of 2,025.

That means 2,626 delegates have been awarded and 1,424 are left. Ohio and Texas, which also votes March 4, account for a significant block of delegates, as does Pennsylvania, whose primary occurs April 22.

It could get ugly

Many things can happen, including the possibility of Mrs. Clinton calling on her strong institutional support in the party to get the nomination with the help of super delegates, even if she fails to get a majority of delegates or the popular vote.

The possibility of denying the nomination to Mr. Obama, the first African-American to have a serious shot at being elected president, after amassing a majority of the popular vote could sunder the party.

Doug Wilder, the mayor of Richmond and a former governor of Virginia, predicted riots in the streets if the Clinton campaign were to overturn an Obama lead through the use of super delegates.

There will be chaos at the convention, Mr. Wilder told Bob

Schieffer on Face the Nation. If you think 1968 was bad, you watch: In 2008, it will be worse.

Political experts say a more likely possibility is that the super delegates will follow the lead of the country.

If Mr. Obama were to continue to win primaries with the same victory margin he had in Wisconsin Tuesday when he won 58 percent of the vote he d go to the convention with 1,931 to her 1,678, not including any other super delegates who may announce their preferences.

But if Mrs. Clinton were to begin winning after having lost 10 straight primaries she conceivably could even up the delegate count.

Then, it would be good to be a super delegate.

Contact Tom Troy at:tomtroy@theblade.comor 419-724-6058.Schieffer on Face the Nation. If you think 1968 was bad, you watch: In 2008, it will be worse.

Political experts say a more likely possibility is that the super delegates will follow the lead of the country.

If Mr. Obama were to continue to win primaries with the same victory margin he had in Wisconsin Tuesday when he won 58 percent of the vote he d go to the convention with 1,931 to her 1,678, not including any other super delegates who may announce their preferences.

But if Mrs. Clinton were to begin winning after having lost 10 straight primaries she conceivably could even up the delegate count.

Then, it would be good to be a super delegate.

Contact Tom Troy at:tomtroy@theblade.comor 419-724-6058.



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