By Rick Pearson
KENOSHA, Wis.—Hillary Clinton political adviser Harold Ickes today launched a spirited defense of the ability of top party superdelegates to determine the outcome of the Democratic presidential nomination, contending they’re “more in touch” with voters and issues than delegates recruited by and pledged to a candidate.
As Clinton prepared to launch a three-day blitz of Wisconsin, which holds its primary on Tuesday, Ickes said he expected the New York senator to “hold her own” in the state against rival Barack Obama before the campaign shifts focus to delegate rich states of Ohio and Texas on March 4.
Ickes, who disdains the word “superdelegate” as a media creation in favor of “automatic delegate,” told reporters that top party insiders—Democratic National Committee members, members of Congress and other ranking locally elected officials--who make up the 795 unpledged superdelegates have an “institutional interest” in the Democratic Party.
“These people are closely in touch with the issues and events,” Ickes said, noting the frequency that members of Congress and other elected officials must face the voters. “They are closely in touch with their constituents and, in my opinion, they are as much in touch, and probably more in touch, with what is going on…than delegates who are basically recruited by presidential campaigns” who are locally elected and pledged to a candidate.
Ickes' comments came as the Obama and Clinton camps have been waging an intense battle over uncommitted superdelegates and trying to retain the ones they’ve got pledges from try while also attempting to switch those who’ve committed to their opponent. The Clinton camp has seen some erosion among committed superdelegates, particularly as pressure is being put among African-American members of Congress and other party leaders to back Obama as the nation’s first major party black presidential nominee.
Some leading Democrats, including, most recently, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, have argued that elected officials should follow the will of voters. Surrogates of Obama are urging superdelegates who are members of Congress with large African-American populations in their districts that gave Obama huge pluralities should back the Illinois senator.
But Ickes went so far as to say that any delegate attending the Democratic National Convention in Denver in late summer—regardless of whether they’re pledged to support a candidate--should look at who would be the best to challenge the Republican ticket led by its presumptive nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
“These are not easy judgments to make and reasonable people can disagree, but at bottom, as I told a group of our members of Congress who are supporting Hillary early in the week, our obligation as a delegate, whether you are an automatic delegate, whether you’re a member of Congress, a member of the DNC, or elected from the districts…is to try to decide who will make a good president and hopefully a great president. But very importantly, who will fare the best and carry the ticket in November?”
Ickes said he agreed that Obama has “done well” in caucus states versus primary states, but belittled Obama victories in states like Idaho, Nebraska and Kansas, questioning whether the likelihood they would end up on the Democratic column in the fall.
Ickes also tried to make the case for delegations in Michigan and Florida to count for Clinton, despite party rules that penalized both states for advancing their primary contests ahead of Feb. 5. Clinton was on the ballot in and won both states but no delegates and the campaign maintains those states’ Democratic voters are being disenfranchised. Obama was not on Michigan’s ballot and did not campaign in either state, though Clinton maintains his campaign violated advertising rules by airing a national cable ad.
“People say, ‘Well, they broke the rules,’” Ickes said of the two states. “Hillary’s not a member of the Democratic National Committee. She didn’t vote on those rules.”
Ickes, who voted for those rules, now says that “as you look down the road, you have to temper (the penalties) with political considerations.”
But as Obama’s campaign notes, Ickes voted for the rules to penalize the two states in August, as a member of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee.
As have members of the Obama campaign, Ickes said it was “mathematically impossible” for either candidate to get the nomination without factoring the votes of superdelegates.
The contest, he said, was “wire tight” and that “the only thing we know is that nothing can be predicted in either campaign.”
Regardless of Clinton’s inability to forestall Obama’s momentum in winning the last eight Democratic presidential contests, Ickes said “the central point is that she has continued to aggregate delegates.”
That’s the purpose of Clinton’s Wisconsin visit running Saturday through Monday—to prevent a further falloff in the narrow distance between herself and Obama’s delegate lead.
“In order to get the nomination, you’ve got to go to the convention. The answer is yes. We’re going to the convention,” Ickes said. But later, he said, “all of this is going to be settled out before we hit the floor.”
“I understand Sen. Obama wants to rush to judgment on this deal and cut this thing down. He’d like to be nominated right now,” Ickes said. “But there’s a lot of delegates yet to be selected. There are automatic delegates who have yet to make up their mind and…at or about or shortly after the 7th of June (the final Democratic contest in Puerto Rico), Hillary is going to nail down this nomination. She’s going to have a majority of the delegates.”