PITTSBURGH, March 14, 2008 — -- Campaigning in Pittsburgh Friday, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., began her day at a gas station talking about energy.
But what fuels her conversations these days are superdelegates, those 800 or so party insiders and elected officials who get a vote at the Democratic Party's convention in Denver this August.
If the Democratic nomination battle goes all the way to the convention, those superdelegates could determine which candidate wins the nomination.
Clinton's Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has gained 50 superdelegates since Feb. 5.Clinton has lost eight superdelegates.
Trying to win over those who are undecided, Clinton wined and dined 17 superdelegates this week at her posh Washington home.
At the dinner was Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., who had once endorsed former Sen John Edwards' presidential run, and represents a conservative district in western North Carolina.
He said he pointed out to Clinton that even with Edwards on the Democratic ticket in 2004, Bush-Cheney won his district with 60 percent of the vote.
How, Shuler asked Clinton, could she compete?
"I've been winning rural and swing districts all over the country," Clinton told him, according to sources at the dinner. Shuler remains uncommitted.
Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., also attended the dinner at Clinton's home, but he had a different question.
"If Sen. Obama finishes this process after all the states have participated and he's still leading in the delegate count and he's won more states and he has a higher popular vote, why would a superdelegate at that point choose to go the other way?" he asked Clinton.
Clinton was asked about the superdelegate question by ABC News at a press conference Friday.
"Superdelegates, so called, are in the process because many of them are longtime elected officials, longtime party activists who can exercise independent judgment about who is best able to both present the Democratic Party case and win the White House," Clinton said.
Asked whether she thinks she can explain that to voters, Clinton replied, " I think that, you know, we are following what was determined to be an appropriate process for picking a nominee."
In an interview with George Stephanopoulos to air this Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had a different take.
"If the votes of the superdelegates overturn what's happened in the election, it would be harmful to the Democratic Party," Pelosi said.
Pelosi is the chairwoman of the Democratic Party National Convention, so her opinion on this matter means a lot.
Asked who should win if one candidate wins the popular vote, and the other candidate wins the number of delegates, Pelosi said the one with the most delegates should win.
"It's a delegate race," she said. "The way the system works is that the delegates choose the nominee."
Audrey Taylor, Sunlen Miller and Eloise Harper contributed to this report.