The Democratic nomination process is apparently over. Thank goodness. It is now up to the superdelegates to seal the deal. In recent days, four black superdelegates—two supporters of Sen. Barack Obama and two of Sen. Hillary Clinton—discussed the tortuous primary campaign and what should happen after today's contests in Montana and South Dakota.
Clinton endorsers Joel Ferguson and Yolanda Caraway, and Obama backers Marianne Spraggins and Joyce Brayboy, are not household names. But as four of the 849 DNC superdelegates to this year's nominating convention, they have seen their status exalted by the close, hotly-contested race between two talented candidates. All four have played roles behind the scenes, and all four have been subject to intense efforts to get them to switch their commitments.
Close political observers expect an onslaught of endorsements from undeclared superdelegates for Obama after today's contests. But it's difficult to predict what will happen beyond that. Much about the party's nominating process is confusing and steeped in arcane rules and procedures that have remained mysterious to many until this year's highly competitive contests. "Even a lot of us don't understand all of it," Clinton supporter Caraway said recently.
One DNC press official had to check more than once to be sure of the constantly shifting number of superdelegates (849…but they only have a total of 824.5 votes because of the Michigan/Florida compromise reached on Saturday that gives delegates from those two states only half a vote. I told you it was complicated). The same party official said the party had no reliable racial and gender data on the group, which includes elected officials, party activists and DNC members. That seems unlikely given the obsession with race and gender in politics.
Ferguson, Caraway, Spraggins and Brayboy, while well aware of the role race and gender has played in the race, said they each decided on whom to support based on more important issues, such as leadership and experience.
"I publicly pledged my support to Sen. Obama before the Texas and Ohio primaries…" said Brayboy, a D.C.-based lobbyist and political consultant. "I believe that Sen. Obama's vision for America's future is what is needed at this particular time."
Ferguson and Caraway have been friends for decades having worked together on the Rev. Jesse Jackson's second presidential campaign in 1988. Both first joined the DNC as part of a compromise negotiated between Jackson and the 1988 nominee Michael Dukakis; Jackson conceded, allowing Dukakis to finally claim the nomination and Jackson was allowed to nominate a number of people to the committee. Ferguson and Caraway were among the first.
They agree that Clinton should not be pressured to leave the race until she's ready, whether that is tonight, tomorrow or some later time. Indeed, Ferguson, 69, a prominent businessman in Lansing, Mich., doesn't think she should get out at all. "I think the whole thing should go to the convention, anyway. I have no problem going to a convention that's really a convention. I think we've got to elect the most electable person."
Caraway, who is my colleague at the Washington, D.C. public relations firm, The Caraway Group, is more conflicted, balancing a desire to see Clinton fight on with the strong belief that Democrats need to turn their attention toward the general election battle with John McCain.
"Historically, if you've got a substantive number of delegates, you go to the convention," said Caraway, 57. "If it were two white men in the race and it was like this, do you think one of them would drop out? Do you think if the situation was reversed and Obama was second and it was this close that he would drop out?"
But, she added, "I guess I don't feel as strongly about it as Joel does."
Caraway and I have had some interesting conversations about the race. I started off as a Clinton supporter but moved toward Obama. I neither worked for, nor contributed to either candidate. But I voted for Obama in the Virginia primary after coming to believe he'd be the stronger general election candidate and was a more unifying leader.
I never once, however, said to myself that I'd do anything other than support Clinton if she were to win the nomination, and I've been dismayed and amazed at the level of entitlement and pique of some Clinton supporters who say they'd stay home or vote for McCain rather than Obama in November.
It is time to focus on McCain, a longtime media darling, whose supporters are already whining that the big meanies of the liberal media are being too nice to Obama. As long as Obama and Clinton continue to battle, the media will pay little attention to the Arizona senator's long list of vulnerabilities and gaffes.
Obama supporter Spraggins said she was eager for the contest to come to a close and is concerned about the divisive effect the race was having on the party. She believes that it is time for Clinton to concede and begin healing some of the wounds caused by some of the racially-ringed comments she and Bill Clinton had made during the campaign. The best way for the Clintons to heal the breach, she said, will be to jump into the fray and help Obama appeal to the women and blue-collar voters he'll need to beat McCain in November.
"I think African Americans operate on common sense," said Spraggins, a New York entrepreneur, who is the only superdelegate in the state publicly supporting Obama. "I think the things that need to be done are obvious. The Clintons have to roll up their sleeves and help us win. People will recognize if a wholehearted effort is being made."
But Ferguson argues vehemently that the Clintons have nothing to apologize for, adding that many African Americans were reacting defensively to "obvious truths" that Obama had, and continues to have, problems attracting blue-collar white voters.
"When [Obama] started running, white people viewed him as a cross between Tiger Woods and Oprah,'' Ferguson said. "Then Rev. Wright showed up."
Obama and his supporters need to recognize that they have a problem and attempt to fix it. He noted one enduring truth of this campaign: Obama has done a better job attracting whites in states with smaller black populations.
"He's not getting those white folks who moved out of the city and to the suburbs to keep their kids from going to school with other black people," he said. "He won early and in states with 10,000 people showing up to vote in small states…But in the [bigger] swing states [where he lost to Clinton], where you have a defection of 10 or 15 percent of the Democratic base because of race, states that might be decided by 3-5 percent, we're going to have a problem."
The four superdelegates also differed on whether Obama should pick Clinton as his running mate.
"Unsure," said Brayboy, who mentioned Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine as potential strong running mates.
Ferguson said Clinton should be considered and also suggested Sen. Joe Biden. "Not one of those governors who you'll have to spend all summer telling people who they are."
Caraway said: "I think he should offer it to [Clinton], but there are a lot of good names." She mentioned former Gen. Wesley Clark and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. "I can't image that [Clinton] would be interested. She's a great senator and likes being in the Senate. I think she'll probably have more passion and power if she stayed in the Senate."