03/13/2008 05:46 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Key Endorsements Could Avert Superdelegate Crisis At Convention

The conventional media wisdom (oxymoron?) is that Hillary Clinton's March 4th resurgence in Ohio, Rhode Island, and Texas (well, initially in Texas) stanched the flow of superdelegates to Barack Obama. One hopes that the reason for the superdelegate hold-out is that they are waiting to coalesce around whichever candidate finishes the primary season with the majority of pledged delegates, although Clinton's campaign is sowing the seeds for a contrary result.

But apart from these supposedly fence-straddling superdelegates, there are still a handful of key endorsements yet to be handed out, tops among them Al Gore and John Edwards, but also including most (sorry, Mike Gravel) of the erstwhile Democratic candidates. There's been some speculation that these prized endorsers want to remain neutral in case they have a role to play in brokering an August compromise between Clinton and Obama. But, really, what's the wait? A sit-down deal with Obama, Clinton, Gore, Edwards, Dean, Pelosi, et al. is unlikely. Rather, the superdelegates will (and should) come together to back the candidate chosen democratically by the voters, before these party elites have to step in. So in this remaining 5+ weeks before Pennsylvania, I would urge these party elders to take some time, do some thinking, and educate the remaining voters on their pick for who would make the best president. Why wait?

There have been signs already that some of these would-be endorsers are getting closer to making a decision, or at least are tipping their hands. On Tuesday, speaking at UCLA's Burkle Center for International Relations, Bill Richardson came as close as one can to endorsing Obama without actually doing so, as he recalled Obama selflessly lending him a hand during one of the debates. And a few days ago, Nancy Pelosi cut short any debate about the Clinton-planted notion of a joint ticket featuring Obama as VP. While she didn't precisely state that it was the idea of Obama on the bottom half of the ticket that she found objectionable, she flatly stated that it was the demagoguery of Clinton's Commander in Chief rhetoric that was the dream-ticket buzz killer. Al Gore has kept remarkably quiet, although one suspects that with supposed acrimony between him and Senator Clinton, that he too would come out for Obama, if at all.

John Edwards has not sent any clear signals, and, on the contrary, has seemed genuinely conflicted about which candidate he prefers. He has given Clinton the edge on healthcare and has favored her willingness to pick a fight with opponents, yet has seen in Obama more of a kindred spirit in their attitudes toward lobbyists and special interests. I wonder, though, given the bitter campaigning and negativity of the past few weeks, whether Edwards has seen anything to sway him in one direction. Does he still favor the hardball tactics of the Clinton campaign after the "3 a.m." ad and the surrounding fear-mongering? If it were Edwards and Clinton still battling for the nomination, would she employ the same underhanded tactics about Edwards' readiness to be Commander in Chief? If it were Edwards and Obama, would we see such fireworks? From his North Carolina perch, which campaign does Edwards think is behaving most honorably? Are the minor differences between healthcare plans still enough to give him pause, or are there larger issues of governance that predominate?

For Edwards and the other big fish yet to be landed, the calculus of whether to endorse is a combination of maximizing one's influence on the race, personal gain, moral imperative, and risk avoidance should your horse lose the race. At this point, though, backing Clinton is the risk, as Obama is the prohibitive favorite in both pledged delegates and popular vote. She can only become the nominee by convincing superdelegates to defy the pledged delegates, yet such a gambit will become all the more difficult the more heavyweights Obama has in his corner. And of course, there's nothing wrong with saying that you'll support the eventual nominee no matter what, even if she/he is not your first choice.

If one waits too long, however, the window of opportunity to make a real difference may close. And Edwards' endorsement and his active campaigning could have a tremendous impact in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Indiana, West Virginia, and Kentucky. There is still a lot of ground to be covered in the primary fight, but rather than play peacemakers at the 11th hour at a raucous convention, Edwards, Richardson, Biden, Gore and others may just decide that they can best help resolve this potential stalemate by getting off the fence and endorsing sooner, rather than later.