Last Saturday a political "earthquake" struck in the ex-urban Republican leaning 14th Congressional District of Illinois. Democrat Bill Foster won the special election to replace retired former House Speaker Dennis Hastert who had represented the district for two decades. The district voted heavily for George Bush both in 2000 and 2004. Hastert was never reelected by less than 64%. Senator John McCain campaigned aggressively for the Republican candidate Jim Oberweis.
Yet Democrat Foster won a convincing 53% to 47% victory.
How is that relevant to Barack Obama? Because Foster choose to link his candidacy directly to Obama. His literature was full of Obama. And the closing TV ad of the campaign was Barack Obama asking the people of the Republican 14th District to support Democrat Foster and his agenda for change in Washington. That message attracted independents and many Republicans. And the spirit of Obama's own campaign helped energize Democrats to volunteer and turnout to vote for Foster.
My wife, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, and I spent Saturday going door-to-door asking people to get out and vote for Foster. At door after door people talked about the need for change -- their readiness to support Foster -- and their support for Obama.
Obama's effect on the Foster race is emblematic of why Democratic superdelegates are beginning to break for Obama.
Not only is Obama the most electable Democratic candidate for president this fall, he's also the candidate that will help elect more Democrats to the House and Senate. And the effect the presidential candidate has on House and Senate races -- as well as races for State Legislature -- will be a big factor in determining who Super Delegates support.
If you don't believe me, pull aside virtually any member of Congress who represents a tough swing district, and ask privately who he or she wants to head the ticket. The verdict is virtually unanimous: they all believe that Obama's nomination will be far more helpful to their own candidacies than Hillary Clinton's. The same goes for candidates trying to take Republican seats.
You hear four reasons for this assessment:
1). They believe that Obama will turn out large numbers of new Democratic voters that simply won't show up if Hillary is the candidate. This is doubly true when districts have sizeable minority populations. But it is true of young people across the board.
2). They believe that Obama will appeal to independents and some Republicans -- and create an environment more favorable to their own candidacies among those voters.
3). They think Obama will be much more helpful at raising money for their own races than Clinton.
4). Most importantly, many think Clinton's presence on the ticket will galvanize the right-wing base. They simply don't want to run on a ticket headed by Hillary Clinton, and many say they would not campaign with her in their districts.
When it comes to passing a progressive agenda in 2009, it is almost as important for Democrats to increase their majorities in the House and Senate as it is to elect a Democratic president.
And when you look at where seats are in play in the fall, you'll understand why Democratic candidates feel the way they do.
Hillary Clinton has very high negatives, particularly in places like the central and southern Indiana where Brad Ellsworth and Baron Hill have to compete for reelection, or Western North Carolina, Heath Schuler's district. The same goes for places like Waco, Texas, home of Democrat Chet Edwards, or Wyoming where Gary Trauner has a good chance of taking the seat being vacated by Republican Barbara Cubin.
Other in-play House seats are in places like southern Minnesota, northern Kentucky, and Greenbay, Wisconsin where Hillary Clinton is not very popular and Obama helps -- either with minorities, young people or independents.
Of course Bill Foster will have to compete for a full term this fall. In addition at least two Republican Illinois Congressional districts will be in play, the Chicago suburban 10th represented by Republican Mark Kirk; and the suburban 11th being vacated by Republican Jerry Weller. Peoria Congressman Ray LaHood is also stepping down from a seat that could easily go Democratic. An Obama Presidential candidacy would massively increase the odds for Democrats in his home state of Illinois.
Obama's candidacy would also be a big shot in the arm to in-play Senate candidates. He would help Congressman Tom Allen attract independents from Republican Susan Collins in Maine and boost turn out among young Democratic voters. The same goes for Democrat Jeff Merkley in his race with Gordon Smith in Oregon, Jeane Shaheen's race to defeat John Sununu in New Hampshire, and the battle to oust Norm Coleman in Minnesota.
Obama would energize young people in Colorado where Marc Udall is running for an open Senate seat; and in New Mexico where his cousin Tom Udall is seeking to succeed retiring Republican Peter Domenici.
In Kentucky, Louisiana and Virginia Obama's nomination would turbo charge African American turnout. Just as importantly Clinton's negatives would not weight down the Democratic candidate.
Following the March 4th primaries, the Clinton campaign tried to argue that even though she is behind in elected, pledged delegates, that superdelegates should support her because she is more electable in November. Subsequent polls showing just the contrary have caused that line of argument to evaporate.
If they now try to pedal the notion that her nomination would help down ballot more than the selection of Obama, that argument will fall flat as well. After all, many of the superdelegates are the very candidates who know first hand the danger of hitching their wagons to the Clinton star.
By the way, in his victory speech, Bill Foster announced that he will vote for Obama in his new capacity as Congressional Super Delegate at the Democratic Convention.
Robert Creamer is a long time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: Stand Up Straight. How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.