As the fight for the Democratic nomination drags on, a nightmare scenario looms large.
Citizens want their voices to be heard in the nomination process. Yet the delegate count between Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is close enough to suggest the 795 superdelegates to the Democratic National Convention may tip the balance. The rules say these Democratic elected officials and other party leaders can choose whomever they want, regardless of how their states or districts voted.
Clinton leads Obama in the superdelegate chase. According to the Associated Press, 249 have endorsed Clinton versus 213 for Obama.
There has been a huge backlash among rank-and-file Democrats over the role superdelegates might play in deciding the nomination. Especially since the voters seem to be speaking loud and clear.
Votes have already been cast in 42 of 50 states. Obama is ahead by over 700,000 in the popular vote, and has won far more contests than Clinton. He also leads Clinton in delegates won in primaries or caucuses, currently by a margin of 1404-1249, out of a total 2,024 needed to win.
Obama's appeal among independent voters makes him a strong general election candidate. The excitement surrounding his candidacy has expanded the Democratic electorate throughout the primary season. And Obama is bringing a wave of young people into the political process that will give the Democratic party a huge boost for the future.
But if Clinton is nominated, many observers feel the race will be too close to call against Republican nominee John McCain.
Since President's Day, a coalition of voters has been calling for Democratic elected officials and other superdelegates to support Barack Obama.
Our website, www.votersforobama.com, has sparked petition drives to superdelegates in four states including North Carolina, where we first organized.
Drawing on the work done by independent researchers like Democratic Convention Watch and the Superdelegate Transparency Project, the site contains everything voters need to contact superdelegates near them.
There is an easy to use, state-by state list that shows who is for Obama, Clinton, or is still undecided, and how to reach them by phone or e-mail. Tools include petition forms that can be printed and addressed to individual superdelegates.
We organized in North Carolina because all our congressional Democrats originally backed former Sen. John Edwards. When Edwards exited the presidential race, most had yet to endorse another candidate.
So far in N.C., over 1000 voters have signed petitions asking three superdelegates to back Obama - Democratic Reps. David Price and Brad Miller, and Gov. Mike Easley.
Ironically, one of the elected officials we are petitioning is Rep. Price, the sitting member of Congress most responsible for the existence of superdelegates within the Democratic Party. Price served as staff director on the Democratic Commission on Presidential Nominations, the 1982 commission led by former N.C. Governor Jim Hunt that set up the superdelegate system.
The last time these party insiders mattered was in 1984. Walter Mondale failed to win enough delegates to put him over the top in his campaign for the Democratic nomination, but still beat Gary Hart with an assist from the superdelegates. Mondale lost the general election to Ronald Reagan that fall in a 49-state landslide.
Twenty-four years later, times have changed. The Democratic Party establishment is split between Obama and Clinton, unlike when the vast majority backed Mondale. Now Mondale himself is a superdelegate and this year supports Clinton.