Keith Evenhouse, Cheyna Roczykowski, and John Taylor contributed to this report.
With some wondering aloud how far a campaign can fall before it hits the ground, Michigan superdelegates - many early supporters of Clinton - are in a tense and uncertain situation as they awaits Clinton's "must-win" results in Ohio and Texas on March 4.
After a shot at national prominence backfired in the form of a boycotted, largely meaningless Jan. 15 primary, Michigan Democratic leaders scrambled, retreating back into relative pre-2008 obscurity to lick their wounds, and prepare themselves for a stern "I told you so" - or perhaps a full-out Dean scream - from the Democratic National Committee.
Dean and the DNC had warned Michigan against moving up its primary, and when the Michigan Democratic Party failed to comply, the state was stripped of its representation at the upcoming national convention, and candidates were advised not to campaign in the state. Of the top-tier Democrats, only Clinton remained on the ballot, a controversial but politically convenient move by a campaign backed by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and much of the MDP leadership. Those supporting other candidates - as well as protesting the state party's inept maneuvering - organized campaigns encouraging Michigan voters to vote "Uncommitted" - an alternative which "lost" to Clinton by just 15 points. Principally responsible for the not-so-veiled campaign against Clinton were Rep. John Conyers and his wife, Detroit Councilwoman Monica Conyers, who decried the "disenfranchisement" of those supporting other candidates.
Thus enter the Michigan superdelegates - 26 Democrats who, at this point, aren't even guaranteed a spot at the table in Denver in August.
"They should be seated, along with the delegates from Florida," said Richard Wiener, a superdelegate who served as the Democratic State Party Chair from 1983-89. "The seating of all delegates is important to the continued process of party building."
It's also important to Hillary Clinton, who will likely need all the extra support she can get should the Democratic nomination come to backroom negotiations in Denver. With less than a week to go before Ohio and Texas, where polls show Obama gaining - if not leading - on Clinton, Maggie Williams, Mark Penn and Co. are scrambling in the face of what Obama spinsters are calling "impossible" odds of a pledged-delegate victory for Clinton.
Wiener, who declined to commit to either candidate, has nonetheless donated $2,000 to the Clinton campaign, according to FEC data obtained by the Huffington Post. He additionally contributed to Governor Bill Richardson's campaign in 2007.
Wiener, who works as an attorney at Wiener Associates, a governmental affairs firm he founded in 1989, previously served as chief of staff to Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. Like the governor, it seems likely that he supports Clinton; and yet his story is a familiar one amongst Michigan superdelegates.
In a recent interview with OffTheBus Wiener not only declined to publicly acknowledge a candidate preference, but he also indicated he has not shared his thoughts on the matter with his wife, and does not intend to do so with anyone prior to the convention.
"If the polls are to be believed, this year is a tremendous opportunity for the Democratic Party," he said.
Wiener's decision to take his influence as a superdelegate underground appears to be the norm in Michigan, where Obama's recent successes have Democratic operatives reevaluating their stances. Mark Brewer, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party and vice chair of the DNC, is even more guarded, and did not respond to OTB's request for an interview. He has reason to avoid the spotlight these days: Brewer has been heavily criticized for his organization's bungling of its primary, and, like Gov. Granholm, is quietly resisting calls for a "do-over" - a caucus that analysts predict would heavily favor Obama.
Brewer originally backed John Edwards, whose campaign had been managed by David Bonior, a former congressman with whom Brewer closely associated. He has since urged Michigan Democrats to remain "open-minded."
Michigan Democratic power player Debbie Dingel appears - at least publicly - to be taking the same approach. The former chair of Al Gore's Michigan campaign in 2000 and wife of Rep. John Dingell has yet to publicly endorse a candidate. Yet, following the trend, FEC records indicate Dingell - whose husband supports Clinton - has contributed $1,250 to the New York senator in the fourth quarter, after contributing $250 to John Edwards in the third.
Complicating matters for some Michigan superdelegates is a self-imposed sense of responsibility for creating the chaos in which the state finds itself. In an interview with the Washington Post, Dingell - who was a key player in moving the Michigan primary - confides that "I probably haven't slept since Feb. 4th." Referencing the rise of Obama, she says, "Nobody foresaw this."
Further indicative of the secretly committed nature of these delegates is the revelation that someone of such influence as Richard Wiener has apparently not been courted by either campaign in recent weeks, an exception to the frenzy that suggests his - and potentially others' - support has been privately confirmed.
"I have not been contacted," said Wiener.
That may change this Tuesday. If Clinton lands unlucky loss #13 (or even #12 or, perhaps, 14), expect the phones to be ringing in Michigan.
This piece was produced as part of OffTheBus's Superdelegate Investigation. Click here to read more superdelegate profiles.
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