Awais Khaleel could try to make the argument that he's your average politically active college student.
But most wouldn't buy it.
The 23-year-old recently chatted with Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and sipped coffee with Chelsea Clinton.
What makes this college senior so special is not that he's a politician, a celebrity, or a foreign dignitary. What makes him special is that he's a superdelegate and has yet to publicly endorse a candidate, making him very special to the Democratic candidates.
Khaleel, the vice president of the College Democrats of America, is among almost 200 uncommitted superdelegates who are members of the Democratic National Committee. These party activists account for a big chunk of the total 795 superdelegates, who also include Democratic governors and members of Congress. And they may have the power to swing the nomination in favor of one of the candidates.
The DNC members are a different breed of superdelegate. "If there are any deal makers...it's the DNC members," says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "A commitment from a DNC member is firmer than a member of Congress."
This is because, while members of Congress and governors could potentially lose points publicly if they endorse the perceived wrong candidate, for the most part DNC members are not political celebrities. They have nothing to lose and are less likely to switch sides. The DNC consists of a mixed bag of Democratic household names and Democratic nobodies, nobodies as in nobody outside of a particular community has heard of them. Stacie Paxton, press secretary for the DNC, says the biggest misconception about superdelegates from the DNC is that they are big party bosses. "The fact is that most of the DNC members are these local grass-roots activists," Paxton said. "These are people who are active in Democratic politics who have helped Democrats at every level get elected."
Being elected — and they are elected in a variety of ways that vary state by state — to the DNC is considered an honor for politically active Democrats. And because they are members of the DNC, they automatically get a seat at the Democratic National Convention as superdelegates. Some of the better-known members include DNC Chairman and former presidential candidate Howard Dean and Al Gore's campaign manager, Donna Brazile. Also on the list are James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute, and Harold Ickes, who was deputy chief of staff in the Clinton administration and is now an adviser to Clinton's campaign. But being a superdelegate also runs in the family. Speaker Nancy Pelosi's daughter, Christine, a Democratic Party activist who authored Campaign Boot Camp: Basic Training for Future Leaders, is a superdelegate along with her mother. Donald Fowler, former chair of the DNC, and his wife, Carol Khare Fowler, the chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, share the honor, as do Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick and her son, Kwame Kilpatrick, the mayor of Detroit. Some of the more elite Democrats are actually considered "Distinguished Party Leaders" under the Democratic National Convention listings instead of members of the DNC. Bill Clinton and Al Gore are on this list, along with former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who was ousted from Congress in 2004.
These prominent Democrats serve alongside young DNC superdelegates like 21-year-old Jason Rae of Marquette University and 23-year-old Khaleel, who have both been courted by the campaigns for an endorsement.
No pressure, right?
"I wouldn't say it's been aggressive, to be honest," Khaleel said, using his conversation with Chelsea Clinton as an example. The two discussed youth voter outreach, not Khaleel's superdelegate status. "She's a really great person to talk to and really has her finger on the pulse of young people," he said.
But Khaleel has also held out on endorsing. "I think it is an important thing for someone like me, as a vice president, to remain neutral," Khaleel says. As another DNC superdelegate put it, staying neutral is similar to "when the head of a family does not show preference for one sibling, at least publicly," says Michael Cryor, the chair of the Maryland Democratic Party.
But some have endorsed. As of today, 133 DNC members are behind Clinton and 74.5 have given a nod to Obama, the half coming from a Democrat living abroad, who gets only half a superdelegate vote. The remainder will presumably be bombarded by candidates and their surrogates up until the convention, as Obama and Clinton try to rack up endorsements. And strangely enough, one of the most coveted endorsements is one that isn't a superdelegate vote—that of former rival John Edwards.