Why? Because no matter what happens in the remaining state contests neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton will have secured enough regular "pledged" delegates or "declared" superdelegates to win the nomination. That leaves some 300 undeclared superdelegates who, having waited over a year to commit, will now look to the vanguard of party leadership to point the way.
As interviews with the undeclared superdelegates surface, two significant facts come clear. First, a majority of these Democratic foot soldiers never expected to find themselves so close to the front lines. Typical is Cindy Spanyers, a superdelegate from Alaska who told the Anchorage Daily News, "I had no idea it would come down to this." She added that she felt "a little sickened" that superdelegates like herself might ultimately pick the nominee.
The other telling fact is that more than half of the undeclared superdelegates do not currently hold an elected office - they are party friends and operatives or former elected officials. At present this large block of superdelegates is not directly beholden to a local constituency back home; they are free to consider a national perspective without feeling bound to primary results in their own state or district.
Enter the super-superdelegates. There are six such Democrats, none of whom has publicly backed a candidate. Most super among them is Al Gore, former vice president and winner of the popular vote for president in 2000. Close behind in super-influence is Jimmy Carter, the only living Democratic president not currently married to a candidate.
Also in the elite group is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose influence will be particularly meaningful among the roughly 80 undeclared superdelegates who are House members and thus depend on her for assignments and favors. She will also wield considerable power in her role as chair of the Democratic convention in August.
Next, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, the former presidential candidate with career ties to the Clintons; and another former candidate, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware.
Finally, there is Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who has clung to a public stance of complete neutrality, but as a superdelegate must eventually cast a vote.
Although some Democrats envision - indeed, fear - a scenario in which these super-superdelegates step into a smoke-filled back room and emerge with the name of the nominee, that is not how it will likely play out. Rather, one will break the ice with a public pronouncement, and the others will quickly follow.
The super-superdelegate who has been most outspoken about his preference, while stopping short of an endorsement, is Jimmy Carter. He told The Wall Street Journal, “Obama’s campaign has been extraordinary and titillating for me and my family.” The former president disclosed that among his children, grandchildren and their spouses, 22 of 23 support Senator Obama.
The two super former candidates, Biden and Richardson, have not sent many signals about whom they will support. Both are considered to be on the short list of possible vice presidents, although Biden told CNN last fall that he would not consider running with Hillary Clinton due to the presumed influence of Bill Clinton. Richardson, on the other hand, served in the Clinton Administration, yet has been unwilling to go public on candidate Clinton’s behalf.
Nancy Pelosi recently issued a coded endorsement of Senator Obama when she said if one candidate arrives at the convention with the lead in delegates while the other holds the lead in raw vote, then superdelegates should back the delegate leader. Based on simple math, that can only be Obama.
Although party chairman Howard Dean has maintained his neutrality while trying to referee the fight over the Florida and Michigan delegations, he has stated on several occasions that party leaders must take a more active role in determining the nominee before the convention. His firmness regarding what it would take to arrange a revote in Florida and Michigan seems to favor Obama.
Through it all, the single most powerful super-superdelegate, Al Gore, has been the most quiet. At the conclusion of primary voting in June, an endorsement of either candidate by the former vice president would likely persuade enough superdelegates to seal the nomination.
Then, no matter who gets the nomination, the search will begin immediately for enough Kryptonite to ensure that no future delegates ever attain such super powers.
© Peter Funt.