Life as a Superdelegate: Full of Political Peril and Family Arguments

Posted April 7, 2008 at 4:14pm

This presidential election season has made my trips home to Louisiana a lot easier. At a time when family and friends are still desperately trying to get back on their feet and rebuild their lives after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, all they want to talk about is “what’s it like to be a superdelegate?”

[IMGCAP(1)]A year ago, no one gathered around the Brazile Sunday dinner table wanted to discuss who would become the next president. Still struggling to leave those formaldehyde-laced trailers and other temporary housing, my family discussed the usual topics — the weather, the grandchildren (my dad’s favorite subject) and who put what new ingredients in the stuffed bell peppers. Now, in the middle of crawfish season and with news that Aaron Neville is moving back to the state just in time to perform at the Jazz Fest, the only beat the nonpolitical Braziles are listening to is between Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

And after listening intently to their numerous debates and daily lyrics performed and replayed by competing conference calls, my family members seem intent on getting in their points, as if I will need their help (and perhaps prayers) in making my decision soon after the last ballot is cast in June.

Democrats need an exit strategy, they exclaim. Not just from the war without end in Iraq, but also from a very long, exciting and emotionally jeering primary season. They know that superdelegates, those of us who have devoted our lives to public service and party activism, will soon be entrusted to grab the helm and steer if the remaining eight states and two territories fail to break the deadlock. A year ago, had they been asked, my family would have said “superdelegate” was a cartoon character.

This primary season, with its record turnouts, has changed everything. Because of the talented public servants in the race, this has been a high-profile and historic race since day one. People are demanding their voices be heard.

Clinton had name recognition and a war chest that everyone thought was insurmountable. Her campaign started the race as if it just had to go through the motions. Clinton succeeded in winning just about every presidential debate, displaying her vast and detailed command of the issues while behaving as if she alone understood the unique characteristics of the position. She assembled one of the best political teams in recent history. And she commanded the airwaves and drove the narrative with a polished chorus that included the former president.

Today, there’s no reason to push her aside, just as there is no reason to attempt to tear apart the Democratic Party with whisper campaigns bordering on electoral suicide. But what will and should happen, my family and seemingly the entire country is asking?

We uncommitted, undeclared superdelegates must evaluate the two presidential candidates and use our common sense, wisdom and political judgment to determine which candidate would make a great president as well as lead our party up and down the ballot. If every state in the remaining primaries broke for Clinton, I would have to re-evaluate some of the assumptions that I have already made. But if the current numbers hold steady with Obama leading Clinton in pledged delegates, popular vote and every national poll I’ve seen, I will find it difficult to overturn the sentiments expressed by the people, no matter how narrow the victory.

Without undeniable victory margins in all but a couple of the remaining states, I see no argument for superdelegates to decide this election differently than the popular vote would. Of course, in a perfect world and a perfect system, the votes in Florida and Michigan would have counted for more than a beauty contest. While I believe Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and members of the convention’s Credentials Committee can figure out some way to have the delegations seated, it’s hard to justify how a party with rules that were publicly known and embraced by the candidates can now seat them without wreaking havoc on the integrity of the entire process.

Two weeks before the Pennsylvania primary, which Clinton is heavily favored to win, her victories in significant states simply don’t add up to what she needs to win the nomination. This is pure fact. Not opinion, commentary or criticism. If the votes had turned out the opposite way, I’d be saying the same thing about Obama. My pointing this out makes me wonder whether some members of my family will cook up a feast when I get home this summer. I suspect some will be hotter than Tabasco sauce and not speak to me for a few weeks.

Still, I plan to remind them that this is supposed to be a Democratic year. With polls showing 81 percent of the American people believe the country is heading in the wrong direction, the last thing any superdelegate should do is to overturn the votes cast this historic primary season. There is no better way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory than for superdelegates to enforce a will contrary to the popular vote.

This election is bigger than any one person. Without sounding overly dramatic, this election is about the fate of a nation. It’s about people worried about losing their homes and those who depend on government to be on their side during hard times. And for me, it’s still about going home to Louisiana to help my family and friends rebuild their lives one day at a time.

Soon, the undeclared and uncommitted superdelegates will have to settle on a nominee. Let’s make sure we all get our egos out of it.

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