Californians’ wavering bodes ill for Clinton

Times Staff Writer

Hillary Rodham Clinton, stung last week by the defection of a prominent superdelegate, could lose the backing of more of these Democratic Party leaders and elected officials if she fails to make significant gains in the remaining month of presidential nominating contests, several California superdelegates said this weekend.

Two of the five superdelegates aligned with Clinton who spoke at the annual California Democratic Convention here said they would reconsider their support if rival Barack Obama maintained his lead in elected delegates and the popular vote after the last contests on June 3.

While hardly reflecting a groundswell, the superdelegates’ comments underscored the concerns among some of these officials about the drawn-out Democratic race. It follows the embarrassing defection Clinton’s campaign suffered Thursday when former Democratic National Committee Chairman Joe Andrew switched his support from her to Obama, and warned that the negative tone of the campaign was becoming a “catastrophe” that would help Republicans.


Christopher Stampolis of Santa Clara, a superdelegate who endorsed Clinton after the Iowa caucuses, said that he remained in the New York senator’s camp but that his commitment expired with the end of the primaries.

“When it’s done, all of us, whether we’re committed or not, we’re going to take a look” at the final eight contests, said Stampolis, who until recently worked in external relations for a Bay Area environmental firm. “Our job is to represent the constituents who trusted us to win the White House.”

Garry Shay, a Los Angeles attorney, said that if Clinton remained about 150 pledged delegates behind Obama, the current estimated margin, he would have to “reassess the entirety of the situation.”

“It doesn’t mandate me switching,” he said, “but it does mandate me reconsidering.”

Stampolis and Shay were among the superdelegates on the keynote panel for the annual gathering of leaders of California’s Democratic clubs, which focus on grass-roots organizing.

The superdelegates said they were being lobbied by supporters of Clinton and Obama. “I must have 100 letters from Clinton people asking me to stay with her, and about 10 Obama ones telling me I have to change immediately,” said Alice Huffman, president of the California State Conference of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

But Huffman said she intended to remain firmly behind Clinton. “I could change my mind, but I wouldn’t change my mind until Hillary changes her mind,” Huffman said. “When I get in with someone, I stay till the end.”

Neither of the Obama superdelegates at the convention -- Mary Ellen Early, an information systems specialist from Sherman Oaks, and Alicia Wang, an ESL instructor from San Francisco -- said they would consider switching sides unless Obama specifically released them.

Steven Ybarra, a Sacramento lawyer, and Robert Rankin, a retired Carson steelworker, were the only two uncommitted superdelegates at Saturday’s gathering.

Rankin said he would stay uncommitted until the last Democratic vote was counted.

“Eight states are left, millions of voters -- I really believe that their voices need to be heard,” he said.

Ybarra, though, said he might remain uncommitted through the convention and not vote for either candidate. Chairman of the voting rights committee of the national Democratic Party’s Hispanic Caucus, he is angry that neither the party nor the two candidates have put together plans and a budget for recruiting and retaining Latino voters -- particularly Mexican Americans.

Ybarra said he believed the Democrats would have won the last two presidential elections if the party and the candidates had made similar outreach efforts to Latinos as they did to African Americans.

“I’m not about to take California, as a delegate, into another voting cycle without a commitment by the DNC, and by the candidate, about what they are going to do about the Mexican American voter across the United States,” Ybarra said. “Otherwise, we’re going to lose.”