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Race Heats Up

Race Heats Up


Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama begin making their case to win over the 800 superdelegates -- 21 of them LGBT -- who may decide the Democratic presidential nominee.

The Clinton campaign held a press call Monday with spokesman Howard Wolfson and senior adviser Mark Penn to specifically highlight why they say Sen. Hillary Clinton is a better bet to win a general election race against Sen. John McCain.

The call was the beginning of a conversation to win over so-called superdelegates, who make up about 20% of the total Democratic delegate count and may very well help decide the Democratic presidential nominee if neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama can meet the 2,025 delegate threshold necessary to secure the nomination. Superdelegates are Democratic Party officials, leaders, and members of Congress who are unpledged delegates and are free to declare their allegiance and change their allegiance to a candidate as they see fit at the national convention.

"We don't think either candidate will be able to get 2,025 delegates without the superdelegates," Wolfson said during Monday's briefing, a prediction that may come down to whether Clinton can stem Obama's February momentum by taking the majority of Texas's and Ohio's 389 delegates on March 4 (Vermont and Rhode Island also hold contests that day).

Of the nearly 800 superdelegates, 21 are LGBT, 12 of whom have declared their support for Clinton, two for Obama, and seven uncommitted. (A full list of LGBT superdelegates can be found at the end of this article.)

Though news outlets and the campaigns themselves differ on the delegate count to date, the Associated Press's latest calculation shows Obama with a slim lead over Clinton at about 1,223 to 1,198 delegates (numbers that include superdelegates who have declared their preference to date). Obama, pulled ahead of Clinton after winning all three of Tuesday's contests in Maryland, Virginia, and D.C.

During the press call, Penn made the case for why Clinton would fare better against McCain by saying that Republicans "redefine candidates" to the point where what originally made them attractive -- especially to independents -- gets turned around. Winning independent voters and cross-over Republicans has been a strong suit for Obama.

"As soon as the Democratic nominee is selected, the entire force of the GOP attack machine will bear down on that nominee," said Penn in a follow-up memo released to reporters. "This attack machine has been built and honed over decades; it is formidable and employs all forms of media, from talk radio to major newspaper columns to television, email, blogs, websites, direct mail, and extensive ground networks."

Penn and Wolfson pointed to Idaho, where Democrats and independents handed Clinton a crushing 17% to 80% defeat on Super Tuesday, giving Obama 15 of the 18 delegates allotted by the state's caucus (Idaho has another five superdelegates). Trying to reframe that convincing victory in general election terms, Wolfson noted that Obama has backed different forms of gun control, including a bill in the Illinois state legislature that limited people to buying one handgun a month.

Wolfson predicted the GOP would go at these positions "full tilt" and "independent support in places like Idaho would quickly evaporate."

The Clinton camp is focusing on Idaho with good reason. Obama spent about three precious campaign hours in Boise the Saturday before Super Tuesday making a speech to a captivated crowd of 14,000 supporters. "So they told me there weren't any Democrats in Idaho," Obama said, prodding cheers from the crowd. "That's what they told me."

Idaho, a predominately red state with two Republican U.S. senators and two Republicans holding its only two congressional seats, was part of a stunning effort by the Obama campaign to redraw the political map, racking up wins in smaller states and red states to counteract Clinton's advantage in big states like California (441 delegates) and New York (281 delegates). Obama is now reaping the benefits of that strategy, winning the Super Tuesday state tally with 13 to Clinton's eight (New Mexico is still in question), racking up a string of eight straight wins since then and leaving pundits to predict that he might sweep every February contest.

One point Wolfson returned to several times was something Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, said regarding superdelegates during an NBC Today interview Monday.

"I think that the role of the superdelegate is to act as, sort of, a party elder," Axelrod told Matt Lauer during the Monday morning interview. "These are elected officials from across the country and they're supposed to exercise their judgment as to what would be best for the party. And as they look at this, they need to decide who would be the strongest candidate for the party.... I think they and all the superdelegates should vote according to what they think is best for the party and the country. And I think that we need the strongest possible candidate against John McCain."

What would be best for the party is clearly an argument the Clinton campaign thinks it can win, and Axelrod's comments mark a mild departure from what Obama himself stressed in a recent interview with reporters in Seattle.

"My strong belief is that if we end up with the most states and the most pledged delegates from the most voters in the country, that it would be problematic for the political insiders to overturn the judgment of the voters," Obama said, but added, "I think it is also important for superdelegates to think about who will be in the strongest position to defeat John McCain in November and who will be in the strongest position to ensure that we are broadening the base, bringing people who historically have not gotten involved in politics into the fold."

If the Clinton campaign can successfully "redefine" Obama's independent draw as tenuous and easily undercut, Clinton just might look good to the 800-some superdelegates who will make their final decision at the Democratic National Convention in August. But Obama's success with independent voters has set the framework for the debate.

Whatever the result of the remaining primaries and caucuses, the most likely outcome is that superdelegates will only make up a percentage of the total delegates needed to become the Democratic nominee.

To prove that point, the National Stonewall Democrats laid out the following three scenarios during a press briefing:

-If a candidate were to win 55% of delegates at the state level, she or he would need to garner 42% of the superdelegates in order to win; -If a candidate won 60% of the state-level delegates, 31% superdelegate support would tip the balance; -If a candidate gets 65% of the state delegates, he or she need only win 25% of the superdelegates.

"A lot of people are saying that the superdelegates will be the sole deciding factor," said Jon Hoadley, executive director of National Stonewall Democrats. "Based on all those scenarios, you would need significantly less than half of the superdelegates, or unpledged delegates, in order to win the nomination."


LGBT Superdelegates (Source: National Stonewall Democrats)

Members of the U.S. Congress: -Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) Declared for Clinton

-Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) Declared for Clinton

Members of the Democratic National Committee: -Jeremy Bernard (CA - At Large Member) Declared for Obama

-Hon. Raymond Buckley (NH - Chair of the NH Democratic Party) Undeclared

-Tonio Burgos (NJ) Declared for Clinton

-Hon. David Cicilline* (RI - Vice Chair of Democratic Mayors Conference) Undeclared

-Frank Dixon (OR) Undeclared

-Emily Giske (NY) Declared for Clinton

-Eric Kleinfeld (DC - At Large Member) Declared for Clinton

-Hon. Sue Lovell (TX) Declared for Clinton

-Hon. Carol Migden (CA) Undeclared

-Hon. Heather Mizeur (MD) Declared for Clinton

-Maria Chapel Nadal* (MO - At Large Member) Undeclared

-John Perez (CA) Declared for Clinton

-Jason Rae (WI) Undeclared

-Jeffrey Richardson (DC - Vice Chair of DC Democratic State Committee) Declared for Obama

-Mirian Saez (CA - At Large Member) Declared for Clinton

-Garry Shay (CA) Declared for Clinton

-Rick Stafford (MN) Declared for Clinton

-Andrew Tobias (Treasurer of the DNC) Undeclared - Will Remain Undeclared

-Randi Weingarten* (NY - At Large Member) Declared for Clinton

*Not a member of the DNC LGBT Americans Caucus

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