With the Democratic presidential race heading toward a possible climax Tuesday as four states including Texas and Ohio conduct their primaries, the lagging Hillary Clinton campaign has cut back its efforts to win over those superdelegates who have pledged to Barack Obama or who remain uncommitted. Instead, the former First Lady's campaign is straining to hold onto those "automatic delegates" who have already pledged their support to her while trying to curb any further defections toward Obama.
Just ask the youngest of Democratic superdelegates, 21 year old Marquette University student Jason Rae, for whom life was a lot more exciting two weeks ago. "The phone calls started after the Iowa caucus," he says of the barrage of enticements to endorse one or another presidential candidate that came his way earlier this year.
Chelsea Clinton even came to his university cafeteria to have breakfast with him and make the pitch for her mother. Bill Clinton called him. So did former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. And from the rival Obama campaign, Rae got a personal telephone plea from no less than John Kerry.
Elected to the Democratic National Committee for a four-year term as a 17 year old in 2004, Jason Rae momentarily loomed as large on the campaign radar screen as perhaps a sitting member of congress.
But all of a sudden the spotlight on Rae was dimmed. "The calls from Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright and John Kerry were before Super Tuesday," Rae emphasizes. Once his state of Wisconsin went for Obama, and once he publicly declared his support for the surging Illinois Senator, Rae's phone stopped ringing off the hook.
The Clinton campaign simply gave up on Jason Rae.
And not just on him.
Interviews with numerous superdelegates over the last two weeks from California through the heartland and up into Maine reveal a similar pattern. With momentum running in Obama's favor after 11 straight primary wins, and after the recent high-profile defections of pro-Clinton superdelegates like civil rights icon John Lewis (D-GA), the Clinton campaign has re-focused its work among superdelegates to stem a possible ebb tide rather than to recruit new converts.
The interviews were conducted by scores of citizen journalists working with HuffPost's OffTheBus Superdelegate Investigation who have profiled more than 200 of the superdelegates (click here to view the profiles and/or to join the project).
With neither Obama nor Clinton expected to win an absolute majority of the more than 4,000 Democratic delegates who ultimately elect the party nominee, the votes of the 795 so-called "superdelegates" will be needed this year to push one or the other candidate over the line. Obama currently holds an approximate 125 delegate edge over Clinton.
The greatest fear of the Clinton campaign is that anything less than a stellar performance by the candidate in Tuesday's all-important Ohio and Texas primaries, could cause a stampede of superdelegates in Obama's direction, mortally wounding Clinton. Those fears were heightened Sunday when New Mexico Governor and still uncommitted superdelegate Bill Richardson hinted on CBS' Face The Nation that after the results come in on what he called this Tuesday's "D-Day," it might be the moment to end the race. "We have to have a positive campaign after Tuesday. Whoever has the most delegates after Tuesday, a clear lead, should be, in my judgment, the nominee," he said.
Hence, the Clinton's campaign's efforts to stem the flow and to consolidate whatever superdelegate support it already has. "The Hillary campaign calls frequently and ... and we have weekly conference calls about what's going on," says Mirian Saez, vice-chair of the DNC's gay and lesbian caucus and an early endorser of Clinton.
Various pro-Obama delegates, like Mayor John Rednour of DuQuoin, Illinois; Steve Powell, also of Illinois, and Stephen Fontana, a Connecticut state legislator, confirm that the Clinton campaign no longer calls them seeking support. Debbie K. Marquez, a restaurant owner in Eagle, Colorado, a member of the Democratic National Committee, says once it was clear she was supporting Obama the steady, daily stream of email and phone calls from the Clinton campaign slowed and eventually ceased.
About half the total number of superdelegates remain uncommitted and consequently remain in the middle of an ongoing tug of war between the fiercely contending campaigns. Much of that lobbying is spear-headed by some of the superdelegates themselves. "I have been calling other superdelegates, listening to their concerns, trying to answer their questions, says Washington D.C. delegate Jim Zogby, President of the Arab-American Institute and an associate of his brother John Zogby's well-known polling firm. "I was able to swing about a half-dozen to Obama," he says.
Superdelegates in Tuesday's four battleground states remain in the crossfire. "I very seldom get to rely on someone else to make a decision for me, but I intend to remain neutral until after the primary, to see how my city votes, then I'll follow the vote of my city as a superdelegate," says Rhine McLin who as mayor of Dayton sits at the epicenter Tuesday's war for Ohio. "I've been called by both candidates," she says. "I'm not flattered by them courting me."
Remarkably, there's still some scattered superdelegates who might not shun a little bit more rather than less attention. "Not a one," says Rita Moran, a Maine superdelegate, when asked how many campaigns have contacted her. "I might be off their radar."
Additional reporting from our team of citizen journalists.
Please visit HuffPost's OffTheBus Superdelegate Investigation to learn about the superdelegates from your state.
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