Obama or Clinton: Will Party Elite or Voters Decide?

Democratic rivals woo party elite in contest that could go the distance.

ByABC News
February 8, 2008, 10:03 AM

Feb. 8, 2008 — -- With Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama digging in their heels in an entrenched battle for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, some Democrats worry that the fight could carry all the way to the party's national convention in August in Denver.

That's led to an uproar by some about the role of the 796 Democratic "super delegates" -- state party leaders, national party leaders and former Democratic presidents -- who get to act as free agents at the party's convention able to back any candidate they wish.

"If 795 of my colleagues decide this election, I will quit the Democratic Party. I feel very strongly about this," Donna Brazile told CNN this week.

Brazile, who managed Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000, is herself a super delegate.

The prospect of the Democratic presidential nomination being decided by super delegates has also raised the ire of left-wing bloggers, who have suggested it would not be democratic to have party leaders decide between Obama and Clinton.

"This is a complete disaster," blogged Chris Bowers this week on his Open Left website.

"It will shine light on complicated bylaws, and the questionable democratic nature of the delegate selection process instead of on voters. Fascinating as it might be for political junkies, it is not the kind of image Democrats need," Bowers wrote.

Other liberal pundits are piling on against what they call the "tyranny" of the Democratic Party's super delegates.

"Strengthen our democracy by reforming the super-delegate system so that the people, not the party establishment, choose their candidate," blogged Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation.

The firestorm over the role of super delegates may be premature.

This week, Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean said that if there is no nominee selected by mid-March or April, or by the last presidential primary on the Democratic calendar in June, the party would likely bring both sides together to work out a deal.

"I don't think we can afford to have a brokered convention," Dean told NY1 this week. "That would not be good news for either party."

Not taking any chances, the Obama and Clinton campaigns have been actively wooing super delegates.

A Clinton campaign official told ABC News' Kate Snow that even Chelsea Clinton has been making calls to super delegates when she's in the car between stops at campaign events.

Democratic super delegate Vince Powers, an attorney and party official in Lincoln, Neb., originally endorsed former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, but got a call from former president Bill Clinton minutes before Edwards delivered his official farewell speech last Wednesday.

Powers told ABC News' Michael Elmore that he told Bill Clinton he wouldn't be endorsing another candidate unless they personally visited Nebraska.

"We're not asking for much. We don't get much help from the national party," Powers told ABC News. "We are starved out here. I want a generation that says they remember when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigned out here."

Obama visited Nebraska this week, and now Powers is supporting him.