Obama or Clinton: Will Party Elite or Voters Decide?

Of the 400 super delegates who have committed, Clinton is leading, with the support of 213 super delegates; 142 are committed to Obama, according to the latest ABC News survey.

VIEW THE LATEST DELEGATE COUNT -- INCLUDING SUPER DELEGATES -- ANY TIME AT abcnews.com/politics or OR CLICK HERE TO SEE THE ABC NEWS DELEGATE TRACKER

This week Obama warned super delegates to vote the way their states have voted.

"If this contest comes down to super delegates, we are going to be able to say we have more pledged delegates, which means the Democratic voters have spoken. Those super delegates, those party insiders would have to think long and hard how they would approach the nomination," Obama told reporters this week.

Despite the assertions by liberal bloggers that super delegates are contrary to the principles of the Democratic Party, the party decided more than three decades ago that party leaders and former Democratic politicians should become the ultimate deciders in a tight race.

Super delegates were created to essentially blunt any party outsider who built up a head of steam in the primaries.

After the insurgent outsider campaigns of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter won the Democratic party nominations in 1972 and 1976, many party officials felt the need to have a greater role in the process.

Democratic National Committee press secretary Stacie Paxton said super delegates play an important role in the party's nomination process.

"Unpledged delegates, aka super delegates -- about 19 percent of the delegates to the Democratic convention -- represent a range of people from party activists to elected officials to rank and file Democrats who are active in grassroots politics," Paxton argued.

"Unpledged delegates are elected and entrusted by voters to represent their states," she said.

Former Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., who lost his 1984 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination to Vice President Walter Mondale, blames super delegates for scuttling his bid.

"In 1984, I was roughly the equivalent of the Obama candidate. I was the new figure, the new face," Hart said in an interview with ABC News. "The super delegates in that contest did make the difference. I wanted their support, and I didn't get it."

Legitimacy Problem

Hart said Clinton could have a legitimacy problem if the super delegates swing her way, as they did in 1984 for Mondale.

"What they should do … unlike my year, they should keep an open mind to see how until the end of the caucus and primary process, which goes at least till May, and then make their mind up after that, after speaking to both candidates and deciding which one would be more electable and run the stronger race in the fall," Hart said.

But Hart, who is now a professor at the University of Colorado, has accepted the role super delegates have been given in the party.

"Many have put their lives into the party, and building the party, or running for office and holding office so they feel that they have some claim on participation, and I think that, to a point, is fair," he said.

"It's not quite pure democracy but it's one of the accommodations that institutions make."

ABC News' David Chalian, Kate Snow, Jake Tapper, Rick Klein, Karen Travers, Michael Elmore, Talal Alkhatib and Jackie Klingebiel contributed to this report.

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