Call them the arm-twisters—the senior campaign aides and Democratic leaders who are in the forefront of courting, cajoling, and capturing the superdelegates.
For Barack Obama, Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts is a key player, both because of his public charisma as the brother of the late President John F. Kennedy and because he has considerable influence with undecided members of Congress. Kennedy makes the case that Obama is an effective leader who gets along well with other legislators and can break Washington's stalemate over many issues. Another Obama arm-twister is Sen. Dick Durbin, who, like Obama, is from Illinois and who provides the personal history about his candidate as an agent of change that many delegates want to hear about. Former Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota makes the case that Obama can appeal to voters of all political stripes, including rural Americans in the heartland.
Hillary Clinton has an equally committed team led by Harold Ickes, a longtime party activist who served as President Bill Clinton's deputy White House chief of staff and is the son of former Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, who served Franklin Roosevelt. Ickes is known for his take-no-prisoners attitude toward Clinton opponents and tough criticism of Obama's electability. The most famous of Hillary's arm-twisters is her husband, Bill, who provides star power and reminds delegates of his popular economic and social policies when he was in the White House, arguing that Hillary will do as well or better. And Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana provides a down-to-earth, Everyman approach.
So far, however, both campaigns are being careful not to push the superdelegates too hard for fear of giving offense. "A very large number of them will bide their time and wait to see how this unfolds," says Clinton strategist Geoff Garin. It's only after the last primaries are held in Montana and South Dakota June 3 that both sides expect a surge of final decisions, and that's when their superdelegate campaigns will reach fever pitch. -K.T.W.
What do you call a pair of former presidents, their vice presidents, and a raft of heavyweights who have steered the Democratic Party for as long as anyone can remember?
In superdelegate parlance: distinguished party leaders. Members of this powerful and exclusive club include Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, Vice Presidents Walter Mondale and Al Gore, 13 past leaders of the Democratic National Committee, and a half-dozen former House and Senate leaders—from Robert Byrd to Dick Gephardt.
As the battle between Clinton and Obama grows longer and more rancid, many anxious party members have turned to these superstatesmen in desperation. Some have proposed a summit of party leaders to help get the nomination decided before the convention. Others have begged one of the lineup's uncommitted stars—Gore, perhaps, or former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell—to step up and broker a deal between the warring camps and help decide what to do about Michigan and Florida delegates. Mitchell, after all, chaired the all-party negotiations that brought peace to Northern Ireland in the late 1990s.
But even these heavy hitters are loath to inject themselves too forcefully into a political process that is still unfolding. They may be lobbying behind the scenes, but the prospect of a summit, or anything like it, appears distasteful to both Clinton and Obama supporters. "I think it would be a failed strategy," says Steven Grossman, former dnc chair who is committed to Clinton. Says Paul Kirk, another former dnc chair who supports Obama: "I don't think it is necessary. The aura of party leaders getting together to thrash this out is not a healthy one." (By most tallies, Clinton has commitments from 11 in this group, Obama from six, with six—including Carter—yet to declare.) With Democrats setting voter registration and turnout records, all seem to agree that an intervention by this all-white, almost exclusively male group could damage the party far more than the current bruising battle. When it's over, says Kirk, both sides must believe that it has been a fair fight. -Liz Halloran