Missouri's superdelegates discuss their role | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri's superdelegates discuss their role

Apr 6, 2008

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - Missouri Democrats have now elected their full slate of superdelegates. Of Missouri's 16 superdelegates, five support Sen. Barack Obama, four line up with Sen. Hillary Clinton, and seven remain uncommitted.

They will join Missouri's 72 pledged delegates -- 36 for Obama, 36 for Clinton -- at the party's convention in Denver this August. Missouri has a total of 88 delegates.

This year, though, it's the superdelegates who have been the source of all the political buzz. That's because these delegates are an unusually strong political force in the race between Clinton and Obama for the Democratic nomination. Because the nomination is so hotly contested and neither candidate is expected to win a majority by the time the primaries are over, the supers — who represent about 20 percent of all delegates — may exercise disproportionate influence over which candidate gets the party's nomination.

Unlike general delegates, who are pledged to a particular candidate, the supers may vote for any candidate. This means the two Democratic contenders must win over these superdelegates in addition to the delegates they won during primaries and caucuses. Making up the list of superdelegates, including 16 in Missouri, are members of the U.S. House and Senate, former presidents and vice presidents, Democratic governors, the head of the party's national committee, national committeemen and committeewomen, and the chairs and vice chairs of a state party.

Nationally, many superdelegates say they are not in a hurry to make their selection. The Platform caught up with some of Missouri's 16 superdelegates during the Jefferson-Jackson dinner on April 5 at the Renaissance Grand Hotel in downtown St. Louis.

They were asked three questions:

1. Are you for Clinton, Obama or undecided?

2. Why are superdelegates needed since everyone will have one vote for his or her candidate anyway?

3. What have you found most exciting or disappointing about this election in relation to previous ones?

Their answers follow:

Ike Skelton, U.S. representative, 4th District

1. “It is my intention as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention to vote for Sen. Hillary Clinton because of her support in rural America, her commitment to national security and her dedication to our men and women in uniform."

2. “I am satisfied with the process of selecting presidential candidates.”

3. “To date, I have not been involved in the presidential primary, but look forward to serving as a superdelegate. I am honored to serve in this role and am confident that Democrats will select the best nominee for the presidential race.”

Susan Montee, Missouri auditor, St. Joseph

1. "I endorsed Barack Obama in July last year. He was down 25 or 30 points then. I made the decision not so much on whether he was a front runner but because I believed he would make a good president. There wasn't much difference in the three main candidates (Hillary Clinton, Obama, John Edwards), but one area where Obama differed was on the war in Iraq. I am very sensitive about that issue because my dad (Marine Sgt. Galen Humphrey) is a MIA from the Vietnam War. Also, I have three college student children who were just energized and excited about this campaign. In addition, Obama wants to change the way the world looks at us and change the way we do things."

2. "I don't know that the superdelegate system is a bad system. There are elected delegates, and the others are there to exercise independent judgment. But that judgment needs to include how the rest of the country voted."

3. "This has been an absolutely incredible election cycle in terms of the turnout, the enthusiasm and the excitement I saw when I went to Iowa, New Hampshire and Texas." At the time of the interview, she was planning to head for Pennsylvania before the primary there. "The number of people I've seen involved in the process is incredible. I've never seen anything like it."

Maria Chapelle-Nadal, state representative, University City

1. She has yet to endorse for two reasons: First, people who have not yet voted in primaries and caucuses should have a say in the political process and help decide who gets the nomination. In addition, she says has heard little discussion of some issues with a strong impact on local communities, such as environmental damage from hog farms in rural America. "And I haven't gotten any feedback or seen much conversation about several other issues, including foreclosures, health care, human rights and South America."

2.  "I'm glad we have these rules in place for superdelegates. Otherwise, there wouldn't be much balance in the party. I'm a superdelegate who is young and a woman of color. I'm 30, and the next oldest superdelegate is probably about 50 years old. Without the system, there wouldn't be this kind of balance. This system is very much needed, and I'm glad that I was chosen."

3. She's excited about voter participation in the nomination process, but is disappointed that some issues, in her view, simply aren't being fully discussed.

Mark Bryant, attorney, Kansas City

1. "Barack Obama will be an agent for change. He has reflected good judgment with reference to the war in Iraq. He's not a member of the old guard who has created a mess in Iraq, health care, gasoline prices and Social Security.

2. "I don't think we need superdelegates. I am one by virtue of being a member of the Democratic National Committee since 2000. I think the Democratic Party needs to live by democratic values, including representative government, meaning if the voters supported Obama, superdelegates should support him."

3. "The most exciting thing is that we are going to have a convention where the nominee hasn't been pre-decided. In previous conventions, the nominee was known before the convention started and the convention lacked excitement. The most disappointing thing to me is that Hillary Clinton has no bounds in her criticism of Obama."

Yolanda Wheat, vice chair, Missouri Democratic Party, Kansas City

1. She implied that she was waiting to hear what voters did before making an endorsement. "Caucuses and primaries were put in place so people would have opportunity to express their preferences. I'd like to leave it at that."

2. "I didn't come up with the superdelegate system. Is it broken? I don't think so."

3. "I'm most excited about the increase in the level of voter participation in the Democratic Party. We're seeing a record number of voters taking part in the process."

Lelia Medley, political director, Missouri National Education Association, Jefferson City

1. "I'm uncommitted because I don't hear the candidates talking about some of the issues. I'm not hearing them talk about union rights, the rights of people to join a union without interference from management. I also don't hear much talk about rebuilding the middle class."

2. She says all delegates should have an equal say about who gets the Democratic nomination. "I'm a superdelegate, but I don't think superdelegates ought to be electing presidential candidates."

3. "I feel excitement and disappointment. This is one of the most exciting years because we have two really good candidates. The disappointment is that they are running at the same time."

Russ Carnahan, U.S. representative, Third District, St. Louis

1. "I support Obama because he has rewritten the history books in running for president. He looks different, he sounds different, and he has a powerful message that favors inclusion. He's galvanizing Democrats and independents, and he's energizing young voters."

2.  He says superdelegates help the party give weight to judgment of experienced politicians. "Superdelegates are important. They include some of our top political leadership. It's good to have top elected officials involved in the process."

3.  "My favorite moment involves my 18-year-old son, Austin, who is voting for the first time. He grew up in a political family, but he never has been interested in politics. He's now been very active because of Obama. The second thing that's exciting about this election is the unprecedented enthusiasm generated by Sen. Obama."

John Temporiti, chairman, Missouri Democratic Party, St. Louis

1. As chairman of the state party, he isn't endorsing a candidate.

2. There might be a case where "voters might be equally divided, and there might not be a clear winner. Superdelegates are there for exactly this situation. So they reserved about 20 percent of delegates — about 800 people nationwide — for this purpose." These delegates don't hurt the democratic process because in their judgments about candidates, they must be cognizant "of the popular vote, be aware of the current pledged delegate vote" and support a candidate who can win.

3. "I've never seen youths so excited, involved in raising money, making phone calls, showing up at events and being part of the political process."

Robin Carnahan, Missouri secretary of state, Jefferson City

1. She says she simply hasn't decided which candidate to support.

2. She wouldn't say whether the superdelegate concept is a good one. "I didn't know that I was a superdelegate until The New York Times called my office and told me that I was. There will be all kinds of conversations about superdelegates. We will have to see how things turn out."

3. She says she's excited about this election partly because of the large amount of voter participation it has generated.

Doug Brooks, clinical psychologist, Joplin

1. "I support Hillary Clinton because of her competence, intelligence and knowledge and her ability to work across party lines to accomplish goals."

2.  "The Democratic Party wanted to give weight to party leadership, people active in politics. It felt that elected officials with this knowledge and experience should have weight because of their knowledge about things political and who'd be the best candidate."

3. "What's different is that we're going to make history, no matter what happens. Obama has created excitement that we haven't seen since Gary Hart and Eugene McCarthy. Those candidates excited youths, and Barack Obama has tapped that same level of energy. We haven't seen that in a long time."

Claire McCaskill, U.S. senator, Kirkwood

1. "I support Obama because he's a leader. He has the unique ability to bring new people into the political process. It's a bottom up campaign."

2. "Some things" about the superdelegate process "are good. Some things are frustratingly difficult, such as how long this (Democratic campaign) has gone on and how long it has taken to get to the finish line. We need to wait until the end of the process and see how it turns out."

3. The most striking thing about the campaign to her is that "young people are excited. I've never seen them turn out and stand up and work hard like this."

Sandra Querry, retired cosmetologist, Grandview

1. "I'm a Clinton supporter because I've been with her and following her for years. She's the right person at the right time."

2. In the future, she says the party may change its tune about superdelegates but she doesn't necessarily feel this is a bad political process. "The superdelegate should just go there and vote their conscience."

3. "This is year of history making. I am voting for Clinton, but I like Obama, too, and in the end  e'll all get out and work for any Democrat" who wins the nomination.



* Doug Brooks, psychologist, Joplin

* Emanual Cleaver, U.S. representative, Kansas City

* Richard Gephardt, former U.S. representative and House majority leader

* Sandra Querry, retired cosmetologist, Grandview

* Ike Skelton, U.S. representative, 4th District, including much of the Ozarks


* Mark Bryant, lawyer, Kansas City

* Russ Carnahan, U.S. representative, St. Louis

* William Lacy Clay, U.S. representative, St. Louis

* Claire McCaskill, U.S. senator, Kirkwood

* Susan Montee, Missouri auditor, St. Joseph


* Robin Carnhan, Missouri secretary of state, Jefferson City

* Maria Chappelle-Nadal, state representative, University City

* Lelia Medley, National Education Association, Jefferson City

* Jay Nixon, Missouri attorney general, Jefferson City

* John Temporiti, chair, Missouri Democratic Party, St. Louis

* Yolanda Wheat, vice chair, Missouri Democratic Party, Kansas City

About superdelegates

For general information, check out these links