With a brokered Democratic convention increasingly possible, both of the party’s presidential campaigns began turning up the heat on their House and Senate colleagues Wednesday to win over new endorsements that — in this election year — could equate to more than just a symbolic gesture.
Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) have been courting their Congressional colleagues’ support for months, but their allies are now taking that lobbying to a new level as both candidates publicly acknowledged this week that they may be dueling for their party’s nomination until the August convention in Denver. Democratic Senators and House Members comprise about a third of the convention’s 796 superdelegates — who during a disputed nominating process could be a decisive constituency for the party’s ultimate nominee for president.
“There are 796 of us — Members of Congress and beyond,” Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), Obama’s No. 1 Senate supporter, said Wednesday. “It’s an ongoing effort. We’re going after every superdelegate.”
“We’re hoping we can convince them to join us,” Durbin added. “These are real votes. It takes 2,025 to win the nomination so those 796 should be given serious consideration.”
Obama’s campaign has put together a coordinated effort within the past few days to target uncommitted superdelegates, both in Congress and in the states where governors and other prominent Democrats share the role. The campaign held two separate conference calls this week with Obama’s Congressional supporters and both focused almost exclusively on ratcheting up efforts to secure superdelegates.
In one of the conversations, held Tuesday, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe discussed how to divvy up superdelegate calls with the Senator’s senior whips, including Durbin, other members of the Illinois delegation, and Sens. Edward Kennedy (Mass.) and John Kerry (Mass.). All of Obama’s Congressional supporters were invited to join another conference call Wednesday, and the main focus again was the effort to pick up superdelegate support.
“It’s a big push right now,” said one source familiar with the call. “It’s all a superdelegate push right now.”
The pressure to grow endorsements may be greater for Obama since Clinton already has a sizable advantage in the committed superdelegate count, having captured 211 to his 171, according to the source familiar with the Obama campaign’s running total. Some — but certainly not all — of Clinton’s backers come from the halls of Congress, where she now has 90 endorsements, compared to Obama’s 64.
A Democratic strategist aligned with the Clinton organization said the New York Senator’s endorsement chase has “been nonstop” for months, but in recent days she’s begun employing her allies, state supporters and donors to work from the ground up to convince more Members of Congress to publicly sign onto her candidacy. The strategist said the goal for both candidates is no longer to use endorsements to add momentum to their campaigns, but rather to grow their prospective Democratic votes for the convention.
“Every one of these people is a delegate — that’s what the fight has become,” this Clinton backer said.