Sometimes, it pays to bring up the rear. As Pennsylvania Democrats finally vote in their long-hyped presidential primary today, the results could affect the opinions of uncommitted superdelegates more than they impact the numbers of pledged delegates actually won through the primary.
Last night, on the eve of today’s potentially decisive contest, two uncommitted supderdelegates spoke at a panel in Midtown moderated by NBC News’ political director, Chuck Todd, and sponsored by the organization, Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century.
Although Ralph Dawson, a Democratic National Committee member from New York, and Andy Tobias, the DNC treasurer, did not betray their preferences, they depicted a tortured process in which undecided superdelegates have been grappling with their sense of what’s best for the party, the elusive will of the people, and the swiftly approaching reality of the general election scheduled for November 4.
Counts vary depending on the media outlet, but some recent tallies suggest that at least 300 of the 794 superdelegates remain uncommitted to either Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton or Senator Barack Obama. In contrast to pledged delegates won in caucuses and primaries, the superdelegates, who mostly are current or former Democratic party leaders and elected officials, may support any candidate for the nomination. They comprise about 20 percent of the total Democratic delegates, and their role has been intensely scrutinized because of the tight battle for the nomination.
In between speculation about that dream ticket last night, both Dawson and Tobias made one point indisputably concrete: for the good of everyone on the planet, the Democratic contest needs to wrap up in June.
“We’ve got to get this done by the end of June,” said Dawson, one of three uncommitted superdelegates from New York. “If we go past June, we could have a serious problem in putting together a convention that is helpful for the nominee.”
Dawson, a member of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws and Credentials committees, is also the author of the resolution that stripped Florida and Michigan of their convention delegates for holding early primaries.
Tobias, a superdelegate from Florida whose DNC treasurer position precludes him from taking sides, agreed that the discussion should not continue much beyond the final primaries in Montana and South Dakota on June 3.
“It’s in everybody’s interest to decide sooner,” Tobias said. Considering the damage of a drawn-out debate, he commented, “That’s giving ourselves such a handicap, and for what? I think we’re going to be done by the middle of June, if not before.”
Tobias also suggested some not particularly surprising guidelines for how undecided superdelegates might make their decision. He offered that superdelegates would want to assess whether one candidate has a significantly better chance of beating presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, and whether one or the other would make a substantially better president.
Then again, maybe these are points that Democrats, seemingly experts at self-implosion, do need to hear repeated.
However, at least one member of the audience argued for the benefits of an extended brawl.
“Why don’t you let it go to the convention?” asked Lou Gordon, comparing the prospect of a heated Democratic matchup in Denver to a late summer contest between the Yankees and the Red Sox. “Let people have interest in what’s going on. You might actually get TV ratings,” he said.
“As a practical matter,” Dawson countered, “you want to get interest in the nominee.”
Of course, he declined to say who he thinks that should be.