Local Politics

State's Superdelegates Could Turn Presidential Tide

Posted February 6, 2008 11:44 p.m. EST
Updated February 7, 2008 12:03 a.m. EST

— North Carolina voters could have a lot of say in this year's Democratic presidential nomination, a change from the state's usual role late in the primary process.

Typically, by the time the state's primary rolls around, the front-runners are a foregone conclusion.

This year, though, the tight race between U.S. Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois for the Democratic nomination could keep either from holding a majority of delegates by the state's May 6 primary.

If so, the state's 134 Democratic delegates could make a difference for the first time in 20 years.

Some of those delegates don't have to vote the way the state votes. They are called "superdelegates" and they get to vote however they want.

"They are really uncommitted delegates," Peace College political professor David McLennan said.

Superdelegates make up about 20 percent of delegates.

"That's a very significant portion of the voting delegates at the convention, so they could literally make or break the nominee." McLennan said.

North Carolina has 19 superdelegates. Two will be elected at the state convention in June. Nine are Democratic National Committee members. Seven are members of Congress, and one is Gov. Mike Easley.

Some listeners thought Easley signaled during a speech Wednesday whom he would vote for.

“I hope the federal government will play a bigger role as we move into the next presidency, and I think she will," he said.

The governor later said he didn't mean he was supporting Clinton, however.

"Oh, no. I'm not making any endorsements. (Former) Senator (John) Edwards has been in this thing right up until now," he said.

Many of the superdelegates had been planning to vote for Edwards before he dropped out. 

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield and Everett Ward said they will vote for Obama. Susan Burgess said she will vote for Clinton.

WRAL also talked with U.S. Reps. Mel Watt and Brad Miller, both of whom are undecided. Democratic National Committee members Carol Peterson, Jerry Meek and David Parker told WRAL they were undecided, too.

Congressman Bob Etheridge said he will support the nominee.

Most of the undecided superdelegates said they are already being courted by a candidate.

"So this is the one year where we might see them play a huge role," McLennan said.

The Republican Party also has uncommitted delegates at its National Convention. However, most analysts expect the primaries will have determined the nominee before then.