Pressure's on Mass. superdelegates

Democratic rivals woo 26 who aren't obliged to toe voters' line

Email|Print| Text size + By John C. Drake
Globe Staff / February 13, 2008

Raymond Jordan was a self-described Clinton man. He supported Bill Clinton for president in 1992 over Paul Tsongas, the former senator from Massachusetts, and worked in Clinton's administration in the 1990s.

But last month was the first time Jordan, 64, a former state representative from Springfield, had ever received a call from the former president.

"Raymond Jordan, this is Bill Clinton, and I'm calling you because we're calling all the superdelegates," Jordan said, recalling the conversation. A week later, Jordan received a phone call from Senator Hillary Clinton, but it was too late. He had decided to support her rival, Senator Barack Obama.

As one of 26 party leaders and elected officials in Massachusetts who are designated superdelegates to the Democrats' nominating convention, Jordan is being courted by the presidential campaigns of both the party's contenders, who remain locked in a tight race for the nomination.

Unlike the 93 Massachusetts delegates whose votes at the convention must reflect the results of the Feb. 5 primary, which Clinton won, the superdelegates are free to pick either candidate. According to Democratic Party rules, superdelegates are under no obligation to follow the will of the voters, as history has shown.

In 1984, Massachusetts superdelegates lined up behind eventual nominee Walter F. Mondale, helping him carry the state at the Democratic National Convention, even though Gary Hart had won the state's primary.

This year, with Hillary Clinton's popular-vote victory in the state, some of the same conflicts are in play as the campaigns woo superdelegate support.

In Massachusetts, the fight for superdelegates could hardly be tighter. Ten are supporting Obama, nine are with Clinton, six remain uncommitted to either candidate, and one (who serves on a national party credentialing committee) is officially neutral, according to interviews. With the national race tight as well, every superdelegate could matter at the Democrats' nominating convention Aug. 25 in Denver.

The roster of superdelegates includes the state's Washington delegation, Governor Deval Patrick, and a few high-ranking party officials, as well as the state's representatives on the Democratic National Committee. DNC members are chosen at state conventions.

Obama himself has added to the pressure on Massachusetts superdelegates, because he has said that, generally, superdelegates ought not to contradict the will of the voters.

"There's considerable pressure on the superdelegates to represent the will of the voters somehow. The question is, what does that ultimately mean?" said Elaine Kamarck, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a superdelegate who is supporting Clinton. "It's easy to be a Hillary supporter in Massachusetts, because she won Massachusetts, so I don't have any problem."

Consider Patrick. His endorsement of Obama in October was a coup for the Illinois senator's campaign, but it was not enough to deliver the Bay State in the primary. So, should Patrick accept the will of the voters who elected him in 2006 and go with Clinton, or vote his conscience as a superdelegate? He was coy with reporters this week, even while there is evidence he has continued lobbying behind the scenes for Obama.

"I'm watching that," Patrick said Monday. "I don't know exactly how that's going to shake out, because it's early yet. I think the most exciting thing for me is how engaged and energized people are about this election, whether they are supporting my candidate, Senator Obama, or Hillary Clinton."

Not all superdelegates relish the attention they are receiving.

"It's pretty overwhelming," said Debra Kozikowski, a Chicopee real estate agent who is a superdelegate by virtue of her post as vice chairwoman of the state Democratic Party. She has not decided whom to support, and plans to delay the decision until a clear presumptive nominee emerges or the primary process ends, whichever comes first.

"I appreciate my position as a party leader and don't shirk those responsibilities," she said. "I just don't want to run out on a street corner and scream it out."

That hasn't stopped everyone - from Patrick, to Kozikowski's own mother and adult son - from pestering her about who it is going to be. (The governor was "very respectful," she hastens to add.)

"It's just an awful lot of attention to a small number of individuals," Kozikowski said.

One superdelegate backing Clinton said he would switch his vote to Obama only if Hillary Clinton asked him to.

"If my candidate were, unfortunately, to withdraw from the race and she were to ask me and all of her delegates, in the spirit of party unity, to support the nominee unanimously to bind up whatever wounds there may be . . . I would do that to reflect her wishes," said Steven Grossman, president of a Somerville marketing firm.

That scenario wouldn't be unprecedented.

Hillary Clinton addressed the Massachusetts delegation in 1992 during a breakfast at the party convention in New York City to urge delegates to switch their allegiance to her husband when it became clear that Tsongas would not win the nomination. Grossman introduced the wife of the future president to his colleagues at the breakfast and has a picture of the moment on a wall of his office.

"The Massachusetts delegates listened to her, and they agreed," said Grossman, who has been a fund-raiser for Clinton's campaign. "Paul Tsongas sent word he wanted that to happen, and that night Massachusetts voted for Bill Clinton."

Margaret Xifaras is a New Bedford lawyer and superdelegate who has held off on committing to a candidate. In an e-mail, she described a gradual shift in her preference that generally followed the momentum of the Obama and Clinton candidacies. She was impressed with Obama's victory in the Iowa caucuses and then was moved to see Clinton "find her voice" in New Hampshire. But Xifaras said she was turned off by the campaign tactics Bill Clinton employed in South Carolina.

She's not ready to declare her intentions. "Let's see if the voters actually end up nominating one or the other," she said, "without the superdelegates taking the legs out from under the process."

John C. Drake can be reached at

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