Superdelegates Should Wait to Make Their Support Public

Posted February 11, 2008 at 2:09pm

Some things are so precious you simply can’t buy them. If you’re not careful, though, you can panic and “make arrangements” to sell them cheap at a fire sale.

[IMGCAP(1)]The degree to which Democratic voters are excited and invigorated about the razor-close presidential contest between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) was underscored this weekend by a phone call I got from a friend in Maine. Practically breathless with excitement, Mary called to say that she had arisen early that day to run errands, visit her mother in an assisted-living facility and give her daughter a ride home from an overnight visit with a relative so that she would then be free to stand in freezing rain, sleet and snow for almost an hour just to caucus.

You can’t buy that kind of commitment and excitement. So why sell it to superdelegates (Members of Congress, governors, big-city mayors, average men and women, and activists like me) for pennies on the dollar?

With excited and energized voters in Virginia, Maryland, Wisconsin, Texas, Ohio, North Carolina and Pennsylvania preparing to head to the polls, some party officials are starting to panic. It just doesn’t make sense. What’s driving this fear of a brokered convention? Is it so impossible to think that voters will break the tie before June 7 or the last official contest in Puerto Rico? Is it even possible to think that voters will accept the party’s nominee being chosen by a so-called elite group of independent delegates, commonly referred to as superdelegates, before the last primary vote has been cast?

In Clinton and Obama, voters are being treated to two superb and equally inspiring candidates who offer a break from the status quo and a new direction for the country. They are equally tough, compelling and knowledgeable about the important issues facing the country. And they are equally ready on Day One to assume the awesome responsibilities of commander in chief. Democratic voters are justifiably thrilled and excited by this win-win primary contest.

Let Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean begin to “make arrangements” for a brokered convention, but only if it is done in the open and not in some smoked-filled room adjacent to his office suite on South Capitol Street. These arrangements, however, should not include urging the superdelegates to declare their preference before the convention and certainly not by April 23, the day after voters in Pennsylvania head to the polls.

I am a superdelegate. Since going public with my decision to leave my position as an at-large member of the DNC if superdelegates are stacked up as a transparent attempt to intimidate and discourage active citizen engagement, I have heard from family members, distant cousins, old college roommates, neighbors and ordinary strangers. They all urged me to wait. In fact, they want everyone — candidates, campaigns, superdelegates, the national committee and its chairman, the media — to wait. They may not be the fat lady, but these voters sure want to sing. They don’t want backroom deals or superdelegates to block or dampen their voice, their enthusiasm or their participation in this historic moment.

I know how they feel. The vote I cast today in the District of Columbia is mine and mine alone. If asked, I may not even confess my vote to my parish priest. But starting tomorrow, my vote as a superdelegate will go to who I believe will make the best president of the United States. And the two are consistent.

Let me start by taking a shot at those superdelegates who already have declared their support for one of the candidates.

They have every right to chime in, support, campaign for, work on behalf of and otherwise try to convince the public why their candidate is better-suited for the job. Look, in 1999 I endorsed Al Gore for president long before I became his campaign manager. And I spent months with him courting superdelegates.

So I don’t see anything wrong with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), a superdelegate, campaigning nonstop for Obama. There’s nothing wrong with former President Bill Clinton, another superdelegate, promoting, defending and supporting the candidacy of his wife. And there’s nothing wrong with the hundreds of other superdelegates without fancy titles or access to media outlets expressing their strong commitment to Obama or Clinton. I value their opinions and their participation. They are my colleagues.

But here is where I draw my personal line in the sand: Let us remaining uncommitted supers wait. Before crowning the king or queen of our party, allow us to wait just a little longer to allow more voters in these upcoming states to weigh in.

For too long, we Democrats have run national campaigns that involve voters in only a few states, restricted mostly in true blue or swing states like Florida, Michigan and Missouri. This primary election, however, has touched and energized voters in states once written off or taken for granted, such as Louisiana, Nebraska, Idaho and Maine, where voters have now had plenty of opportunities to see the candidates live and in Technicolor.

These voters, these ordinary citizens, are turning the table. They are showing up in record numbers. They are contributing megamillions and, yes, they have signed up to back one of the two candidates.

This is an unconventional election year and Democrats are in unchartered waters. The current is strong enough to lead the party to the White House and a working majority in both chambers. In a moment in which voters are paying close attention to everything we do and how we do it, it’s foolish for party leaders to build a dam.

One of these two fine candidates will emerge at some point with another head wind and momentum to help them come very, very close to being the nominee. And at that crucial moment, we supers may be called upon to weigh in and to help nudge one or the other into a supporting role. In the intervening weeks or months, should the voters not decide it beforehand, let us wait patiently before we hit the panic button and make arrangements for a fire sale.

In the meantime, superdelegates and party leaders will best spend their time drawing up the strategic plans and arguments that will convince all voters that a third Bush term would not be good for the United States of America.

Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.