Some superdelegates just biding their time

Debra Kozikowski's neighbors in Chicopee, Mass., voted in the Democratic presidential primary two months ago, but she is still bombarded by letters and e-mails imploring her to choose between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

She's in no rush to choose.

As vice chairwoman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, Kozikowski is a sought-after superdelegate — one of nearly 800 party leaders and elected officials likely to decide the Democratic nomination.

"Until America has (its) say, I'm going to wait to have mine," she said. "I don't want voters … to feel as though superdelegates are sweeping down and making the decision for them."

Pennsylvania's primary is Tuesday, but dozens of uncommitted superdelegates told USA TODAY and Gannett News Service that they feel little pressure to resolve the heated nomination battle before the last primaries on June 3. Few said they expected the ongoing fight to damage their party's chances in November.

"There's absolutely no urgency for any superdelegates … to worry about closing this thing down," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., whose White House bid ended in January.

Biden, a superdelegate because of his seat in Congress, said that surging voter registration in the states with upcoming contests shows enthusiasm among Democrats is high. "That's good stuff, man," he said. "When people vote in the primary, that is the surest sign they're going to vote in the general election."

Because neither Clinton nor Obama is expected to capture the 2,025 delegates needed for the nomination by winning the 10 remaining primaries and caucuses, the votes of superdelegates are likely to decide the race.

As a result, the candidates and their surrogates are working hard to woo the roughly 250 uncommitted superdelegates and to prevent defections from those who already have pledged their support.

"Former president Clinton offered to shine my cowboy boots and wash the window on my pickup," said Dennis McDonald, chairman of the Montana Democratic Party. "He was kidding, of course, although they need polishing."

About 140 of undeclared superdelegates are members of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), according to a tally by Politico. Nearly 100 uncommitteds are in Congress; eight are governors.

Clinton, a former first lady with extensive ties to party officials, once held a sizable lead over Obama in the superdelegate count. On Feb. 5, the day of the multistate Super Tuesday primaries, Clinton led Obama by 72 superdelegates, according to the Associated Press. By Thursday, the gap was down to 23.

Three superdelegates — Reps. Mel Watt and David Price of North Carolina and André Carson of Indiana — threw their support to Obama on Wednesday. Their states vote May 6.

Carson, elected to Congress last month, said he had "great love and respect for the Clinton family," but believes Obama "represents a new generation."

Superdelegates "are party leaders, but they also are followers," said Democratic strategist Tad Devine, who is not affiliated with a campaign. "They want to see that the candidates have proved themselves with voters."

Most of the undecideds said they expect to make their choices known by July 1 — a deadline proposed recently by DNC Chairman Howard Dean — to avoid a showdown at the party's Aug. 25-28 convention in Denver.

"This should not play out on national television," said Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who heads his party's effort to elect House members. He worries that a protracted battle will hurt the nominee and congressional candidates.

Bob Mulholland, a DNC member from California, said Democrats can afford to wait until the convention. "A nine-week election leaves plenty of time to beat up on McCain," he said.

Contributing: William Risser, Brian Kalish and LuzElena Avitia of USA TODAY; James R. Carroll of The (Louisville) Courier-Journal; and Faith Bremner, Dennis Camire, Nicole Gaudiano, Maureen Groppe and Ana Radelat of Gannett News Service