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
The Family Ties
As if the choice between Clinton and Obama isn't difficult enough, for at least one set of superdelegates, it could have signaled that someone is sleeping on the couch.
Former DNC Chair Don Fowler endorsed Clinton early on in the campaign, but after South Carolina voters had chosen Obama, his wife and chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, Carol Khare Fowler, decided to support Obama. "He had thought that I probably would—it's not the first thing we've ever differed on," says Carol Fowler. While these superdelegate spouses have been married only 2½ years, they've worked together in politics for more than 30. "Differing on things like this is truly nothing new," says Don Fowler. "That is part of being involved in politics." And it could have been worse: "He would have been much more upset if I had said I was supporting a Republican," says Carol Fowler.
For a few, being superdelegates is a family affair. But unlike the Fowlers, most of the superdelegate families have not divided their allegiances. Clearly, Bill Clinton is supporting wife Hillary Clinton. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her dnc member and party activist daughter, Christine Pelosi, decided not to endorse a candidate—yet. Instead, they created what some have dubbed the "Pelosi Club," encouraging the 300 or so undecided superdelegates to side with the candidate with the most pledged delegates. Another married couple, Texas dnc members Betty and Boyd Richie, has also remained undecided.
And one final superdelegate family may not even get a chance to choose. Michigan Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick and her son, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, may not be seated at the convention because of their primary line-cutting home state. -Nikki Schwab
The most prominent superdelegates are obviously "super" because of their roles as senators, governors, and well-known party elders. Most, however, are more obscure: unknown to the majority of the public, with backgrounds and personal biographies that hew to the ordinary, yet are set apart by their party activism.
Professionally, many of these "unknown superdelegates" are civic organizers, lobbyists, local party chairs, union leaders, party bureaucrats, or minority activists. There are about 400 of them in total, all members of the Democratic National Committee and responsible for slightly more than half of the party's superdelegate pool.
Some have attracted attention because of their relative youth. Jason Rae, a superdelegate from Wisconsin, is a 21-year-old Marquette University junior and the chair of the dnc Youth Council. Before backing Obama, he dined with Chelsea Clinton and took calls from, among others, Sen. John Kerry, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Michelle Obama. Like Rae, many other 20-somethings have the same, decidedly un-20-something role, including Awais Khaleel, the College Democrats of America vice president, who is currently uncommitted.
Another unfamiliar group of superdelegates: expatriates. Eight superdelegates living outside the United States will be seated at the convention as members of Democrats Abroad, a dnc-sanctioned organization that represents millions of registered Democrats throughout the world. (Reflecting a compromised status, each superdelegate has half a vote, for a total of four votes.)
More cryptic still are a group of 76 superdelegates known as "add-ons." Typically, these individuals are handpicked by state party chairs, who, as superdelegates themselves, stand to multiply their political influence through their choices. Add-on selections, which count toward the 795 total, are reported on a state-by-state basis; some won't be selected until June 21. As of early April, Obama had a slight lead with the group. -Kent Garber