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Many superdelegates don't feel bound by primaries
WASHINGTON -- Many of the Democratic superdelegates who are still undecided say the most important factor in their decision is simple -- they just want a winner in November.
Problem is, after nearly four months of primaries and caucuses in 46 states, territories and the District of Columbia, they still aren't sure who that is, don't seem be in any hurry to make up their minds and aren't interested in any artificial process that might force them to choose between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Most of the more than 100 undecided superdelegates who discussed their decision-making with The Associated Press in the past two weeks agreed that the primaries and caucuses do matter -- whether it's who has the most national delegates or the candidate who won their state or congressional district. But few said the primaries will be the biggest factor in their decision.
"I think it's really important that we keep our eye on the prize, and the prize is the win in November," said Gail Rasmussen, an undecided superdelegate from Oregon.
That's good news for Clinton, who cannot catch Obama in delegates won in the few remaining primaries and caucuses.
Obama has been arguing for months that the superdelegates would be overturning the will of the voters if they don't nominate the candidate who has won the most pledged delegates. He has a 164-delegate lead in that category. Clinton, meanwhile, has argued that superdelegates should exercise independent judgment.
Many of the undecided superdelegates say they don't want to be perceived as elite insiders, cutting backroom deals to select a nominee. But that doesn't mean they're ready to forfeit their status.
"The way the system is set up, the superdelegates are able to weigh in because we are the most experienced people in the party," said Blake Johnson, an undecided superdelegate from Alaska. "We are the ones who have been part of the party the longest and keep it running on a day-to-day basis."
There will be nearly 800 superdelegates at the party's national convention in Denver this summer. They are the party and elected officials who automatically attend the convention and are free to support whomever they choose. They are in high demand now that neither Clinton nor Obama can clinch the nomination without them.
Clinton leads in superdelegate endorsements, 258-232, according to the latest tally by the AP. However, Obama has been eating away at her lead for much of the past two months, picking up 84 percent of the superdelegate endorsements since Super Tuesday.
About 250 superdelegates have told the AP they are undecided or uncommitted. About 60 more will be selected at state party conventions and meetings this spring.
AP reporters across the nation contacted the undecideds and asked them how they plan to choose. Of those, 117 agreed to discuss the decision-making process.
* About a third said the most important factor will be the candidate who, they believe, has the best chance of beating Republican John McCain in the general election.
* One in 10 said the biggest factor will be the candidate with the most pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses.
* One in 10 said what matters most is who won their state or congressional district in the primary or caucus.
* The rest cited multiple factors or parochial issues.
Most undecided superdelegates surveyed said they hope the nomination is settled before the party's convention. However, by more than a 2-to-1 margin, they said they oppose any formal mechanism, such as a separate primary or caucus, for the superdelegates to decide the nomination.
"I think that is changing the rules in the middle of the process," said Rep. Dan Boren of Oklahoma. "Obviously there are some problems with the process; there need to be some reforms made. Frankly, I would favor the people making the decision rather than insiders and party bosses."
Many undecided superdelegates refused to discuss their decision-making process, showing discomfort with the subject. Eighty-nine undecided superdelegates didn't return repeated phone calls or e-mails in the past two weeks, and 42 refused to discuss their decision when they were contacted.
"If I answer any of those [questions], people might be able to divine which way I am leaning," said Wayne Kinney, an undecided superdelegate from Oregon.
Even some who are experienced in politics demurred.
"I'm not saying anything," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, an Illinois superdelegate and a former aide to President Clinton. "There's no value to it."