Superdelegate Ground Shifting Beneath Clinton

Washington Matters

Superdelegate Ground Shifting Beneath Clinton

Mark explained earlier in the day why superdelegates would never interfere with the will of the voters. The facts are already bearing him out. Rep. John Lewis, a much revered veteran of the civil rights movement and an influential figure in both Congress and the Democratic Party, appears ready to ditch Hillary Clinton and support Barack Obama. Bad enough that she's losing a key backer and defender, but losing a superdelegate of his caliber is a terrible portent for an already struggling campaign.

Clinton has been banking on the support of superdelegates to give her an edge if the nomination is not decided once the primaries and caucuses are over. She argues that they should rely less on the actual delegate and vote totals and more on their judgment of who has the best chance of leading the party to victory in November.

But the Lewis defection makes plain that superdelegates are unlikely to heed such a call. Lewis didn't just cite  Obama's recent impressive performance, but the fact that his own home state of Georgia voted heavily for Obama.

 Superdelegates have often been portrayed as party bosses with their own agendas, but political scholars Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein point out that they have historically played the role of party peacemakers. And that may well be their role this time around. The great anxiety in the Democratic Party is not so much about superdelegates than the prospect of not having a nominee until their late August convention. There is a growing movement afoot to make sure that doesn't happen -- and if either candidate falls short of the necessary number of delegates to win, superdelegates would be the key. But their goal would be party unity, not king (or queen) makers.

And the truly bad news for Clinton is that is exactly the role Lewis sees for himself and other superdelegates. He's planning to meet with other superdelegates to discuss how to use their clout, if needed. He also offered himself as a mediator between the Obama and Clinton camps. And Hillary Clinton can be sure that if Lewis come knocking, it won't be to cut deals or hear pleas for picking experience over youth. It will be to tell her that her party needs her -- not as its standard-bearer, but as a graceful and unifying loser.