WASHINGTON – Hillary Clinton is pursuing several paths to prevent her slip in the delegate count from becoming a free fall, but with reports surfacing that her long-loyal superdelegates are flirting with Barack Obama’s candidacy, the New York senator’s options are spreading thin.
As recently as Thursday, superdelegate John Lewis, a Georgia congressman and black leader from the civil rights era, was reconsidering his support for Clinton.
The New York Times reported Friday that Lewis planned to jump ship for Obama, citing a “sense of movement and a sense of spirit” in recent days. His Atlanta-area district voted 3-to-1 for Obama. A spokesman for Lewis told FOX News that Lewis has not yet made a final decision where he will throw his support, but that he is reconsidering his Clinton loyalty. Such a defection would signal an erosion of support Clinton was depending on.
Superdelegates — members of Congress, former presidents, party officials and other insiders who go to the national convention uncommitted — were one of a handful of firewalls Clinton has set up. She also has pushed to get the 313 delegates from Florida and Michigan, which she won, seated at the national convention; the move would give her the lead. But the Democratic National Committee is refusing to back down from its decision to strip the states of their delegates for holding early primaries.
This could leave Clinton with a do-or-die scenario, which her campaign already has marked down as its chance for recovery: Win in delegate-rich Ohio and Texas on March 4, and win big.
“If she wins those states, we’re back to a dead heat,” pollster Scott Rasmussen told FOX News, noting that while national polls show Obama leading, recent Ohio and Texas polls show her ahead. Polls also show her ahead in Pennsylvania, which votes in April.
If she doesn’t win, she stands to lose even more superdelegates who have changes of heart, out of deference to constituencies that vote for Obama, which already is happening to some degree.
Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., another one of Clinton’s prominent congressional black supporters, already intends to switch to Obama after his district went for the Illinois senator by 80 percent in the Feb. 5 primary.
“You’ve got to represent the wishes of your constituency,” Scott said. “My proper position would be to vote the wishes of my constituents.”
The nearly 800 superdelegates make up about 20 percent of total delegates at the Democratic National Convention in August. Most conventions do not come down to superdelegates, but with that looking possible this year, Obama’s camp has called for superdelegates to go with the wishes of their districts. In other words, if the pledged delegates go for Obama, then the superdelegates should too.
David Wilhelm, a 2008 superdelegate who ran Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992, also said during his endorsement of Obama Wednesday that other superdelegates need “to begin ratifying the choice of Democratic primary voters.”
As of Thursday, the total delegate count stood at 1,276 for Obama and 1,220 for Clinton, but Clinton still led in superdelegates.
“Senator Clinton enjoys broad and deep support from superdelegates around the country, and while we like the Obama campaign’s selective logic for superdelegate selection, we think superdelegates should choose their candidate based on who they think could lead the country on Day One, who has delivered solutions, and not just speeches, and who is tested and ready for a tough general election campaign,” Clinton spokesman Jay Carson told FOX News.
Edwards Still a Factor
A potential leg up for Clinton would be if she received the endorsement of former candidate John Edwards, which Democratic sources say is possible. She likely would get at least some of his 26 delegates in the process. But the greater boon of an Edwards endorsement — the support of his union backers — is already being undercut by Obama.
Obama is expected to receive the support of the 1.9 million-member Service Employees International Union Friday. Many state councils of the union already had endorsed Edwards, so the ground game Edwards would bring to Clinton in an endorsement of the New York senator might already have been pulled from beneath her feet.
So Clinton is campaigning hard in Texas and Ohio, appealing to Latino voters and trumpeting a populist, worker-friendly message that could have come from Edwards himself.
Thursday in Ohio, she pledged to crack down on special interests by proposing restrictions on oil, insurance and student loan companies.
“For seven long years, we’ve had a government of, by, and for the special interests, and we’ve had enough,” the New York senator told an audience at a General Motors plant that she toured here. “It’s time to level the playing field against the special interests and deliver 21st Century solutions to rebuild the middle class.”
Bringing Michigan, Florida Back Into the Fold?
Clinton does have options remaining with Michigan and Florida.
The DNC has offered the states a couple ways out in compliance with party rules. First, they could hold second nominating contests, but Democratic leaders in both states reject that idea. Or they can appeal to the DNC’s credentials committee, a 186-member body that usually operates in obscurity and has a complicated membership and rules process that will require deft maneuvering in this divided campaign.
Just like the 800-some superdelegates, this committee could hold the cards in helping to decide the Democratic nominee if the race stays close.
Most of the credentials committee members will be appointed by the Clinton and Obama campaigns, depending on how they perform in nominating contests across the country, with Chairman Howard Dean having already named 25. Although Obama has won more contests so far, Clinton has won most of the larger states — and larger states get more seats. So there’s the potential for the committee to be closely divided if the race stays tight.
The credential committee would meet in July or August, and its decision would be in the form of a recommendation to all the delegates at the convention. They have a range of options to consider, including recommending reinstatement of all or some of the delegates divided any way they see fit between Obama and Clinton. The recommendation would become the first order of business at the convention on Aug. 25.
One Clinton adviser, speaking on a condition of anonymity, said there are no legal options to pursue in courts, which give parties wide latitude in crafting their rules.
The Clinton adviser suggested a compromise where perhaps the Michigan delegates could be split evenly among the two since Obama’s name wasn’t even on the ballot there. But the Florida delegates should be bound by the primary results, the adviser argued, because Obama’s name was on the ballot in that case. The Illinois senator didn’t have the option of removing it like he did in Michigan.
That’s a compromise that the Obama campaign would be unlikely to accept without a fight.
Clinton did not object to the DNC stripping the states of their delegates when the decision was made last year. Some of her backers were on the committee that made the decision to do so and actively supported it.
“Now, when they believe it serves their political interests, they’re trying to rewrite the rules,” Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said in a call with reporters.
FOX News’ Major Garrett and Aaron Bruns and The Associated Press contributed to this report.