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A Super-Early Survey of Democratic Super-Delegates

Early Associated Press and ABC News estimates of Democratic super-delegate leanings show Howard Dean as the runaway favorite with 80 and 90 votes, respectively, with Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt and Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry vying for second place with about 50 delegates each. Super-delegates are elected officials and other political experts not pledged to support a particular candidate at the party convention.

But eight days before the first vote is cast, some experts believe preliminary counts are meaningless.

“I don’t place a great deal of stock in them in terms of the nominating process or ultimately how [super-delegates] will vote,” said Doug Schoen, a New York political consultant and former pollster for Bill Clinton.

“It’s a little early to attach significance to these totals,” said Bill Buck, a spokesman for retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark’s campaign. “The important thing to watch is what happens in the early primaries and where super-delegates start going after that. Most of the super-delegate totals now are based on preexisting political relationships.”

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The early numbers essentially demonstrate that “Dean is doing very well in the polls,” Schoen said. The super-delegate count will become more significant if the nomination process is close.

In the last three weeks, Associated Press surveyed 589 of the 725 super-delegates listed by the Democratic National Committee: 260 endorsed a candidate and 329 said they were uncommitted or would not answer. The remaining 136 could not be reached.

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Joe Lieberman, Cover Boy

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut received a hearty editorial thumbs up from the political magazine The New Republic last week. The moderate journal described Lieberman as the “clearest, bravest alternative” to the “Howard Dean revolt.”

Commending Lieberman’s unwavering support of the war in Iraq, The New Republic also praised his moral courage in defending positions often unpopular with liberals, like opposing teachers unions’ influence on education policy.

“Only Lieberman -- the supposed candidate of appeasement -- is challenging his party, enduring boos at event after event, to articulate a different, better vision of what it means to be a Democrat.”

The campaign proudly e-mailed supporters to advertise the highbrow endorsement, which came after an hourlong meeting with the magazine’s editorial board in late December.

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“The New Republic is a respected voice for mainstream Democrats,” said Lieberman campaign spokesman Adam Kovacevich. “No single endorsement gives any candidate a lock on the race, but The New Republic is a magazine that looked very, very closely at each candidate’s record, and ultimately decided that the major issue of this campaign is security.

“We feel optimistic about getting the Vogue and Teen People endorsements next.”

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Clinton’s Humor Falls Flat

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Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton clumsily demonstrated that she should stick to legislating and steer clear of stand-up comedy when the New York lawmaker made an ethnic joke about Mahatma Gandhi at a Missouri fundraiser last week.

Clinton, who attended the event to support Nancy Farmer, a Democratic underdog challenging Republican Sen. Christopher S. Bond, praised Gandhi as a “great leader of the 20th century,” and she quoted a statement the Indian independence leader once made about his rivals: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

But Clinton also joked to the crowd of 200 that the iconic peace activist “ran a gas station down in St. Louis.”

The comment drew the ire of Indian American groups, who said it perpetuated stereotypes about how Indians make a living in the U.S.

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“To be generous to her, I would say it was a poor attempt at humor,” Michelle Naef told Associated Press. Naef is an administrator of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, a Memphis, Tenn.-based organization created in 1991 by Arun Gandhi, a grandson of the Indian leader. “Perhaps I’m overly sensitive, but I find it offensive when people use stereotypes in that way.”

Clinton later told Associated Press that the remark was a “lame attempt at humor.”

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Duly Quoted

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“It is a sham to say you support statehood but ignore the district’s primary, which is talking like a donkey and walking like an elephant.” -- The Rev. Al Sharpton, criticizing Democratic presidential candidates who had their names removed from the Jan. 13 Washington, D.C., primary ballot.

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Compiled from staff, Web and wire reports by Times researcher Susannah Rosenblatt.


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