Endorsement watch: SEIU backs Obama, but what is John Lewis thinking?

Barack Obama scored two huge union endorsements over the past 48 hours. The first came yeterday, as the United Food and Commercial Workers (and their 1.3 million members) announced they were supporting Obama. Today, SEIU (Service Employees International Union), a 1.9 million member union, announced it was getting behind Obama as well. The SEIU support is very important, as it could help Obama make up some ground in Texas. SEIU had announced in the fall that it awas not able to settle on an endorsement, and had left its state affiliates endorse as they pleased. John Edwards had claimed the most important endorsements then, from the Iowa and New Hampshire SEIU in particular.

Throughout the fall, Obama had lagged behind Clinton and Edwards in the fight for labor support but he has been picking up a lot of those that were formerly supporting Edwards or those who had stayed out of the race because too many of their member were Edwards supporters.

The other big story right has to do with John Lewis's endorsement. News came last night -- in the form of a front-page New York Times article -- that John Lewis was switching from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama. But this has led to a lot of confusion this morning, as Lewis's congressional office started telling the media that he was only thinking about endorsing and denying last night's story. The NYT reporter stood by the story on CNN.

At this time, it is still very unclear what is going on with Lewis himself refusing to comment and his spokesperson continuing to offer vague answers and vague denials. What Lewis seems to have decided is that he will cast his superdelegate vote for Obama, but not yet that he is endorsing him. His rationale for now is not that Obama is the better candidate but that whoever the better candidate is I am bound as a superdelegate to the wishes of the voters I represent. Lewis's strange positioning is in many ways much more dangerous for Clinton than if Lewis had out-right abandoned her, because it signals a strategy other of her backers can use to abandon her without looking like flip-flopers. "Oh, we still support Hillary," they might say, "but our superdelegate vote goes to Obama." And this is exactly the argument made by a super delegate in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution:

Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday that news of Scott's switch and the confusion surrounding Lewis' position has not affected his own standing. But, he said, his endorsement of Clinton does not necessarily mean he'll cast a superdelegate ballot for her in August. "I endorsed her in the primary and I stand by that endorsement," Thurmond said.

But there are two issues at work, he said: endorsements and superdelegate ballots. They are not necessarily the same thing, he said.

This argument could essentially doom Clinton's superdelegate strategy. The problem with this argument is that it is not the point of the superdelegate rules, and if this is how things are going to shape out, superdelegates might as well be canceled (which they probably should be). This development in essence gives an extra delegate to every district, with a bonus to the winner. Will the superdelegates who have endorsed Obama switch to Clinton if their state has voted for Hillary (like the Massachusetts Senator) or will they do so only if Clinton takes an overall pledged delegate lead?

This is all to point out that the delegate rules are much more confusing than they should be in a smooth democratic process.


  • IF this all comes down to super-delegates, those delegates can be wined and dined and courted by both candidates until they actually cast their votes on the convention floor. And I'll bet there will be many super-delegates that do not decide until late May, early June. Neither Clinton or Obama are going to withdraw in the face of a few more primary losses. What happens when an irresistible force meets and immovable object?

    By Blogger Daniel Greenfield, At 15 February, 2008 17:34  

  • I think the superdelegates should all be considered "uncommitted" right now. There are factors to be considered at the convention that have not as of yet played themselves out. Anyone who thinks a statement of support from one of them is cast in concrete needs to step back and wait until convention time.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 15 February, 2008 18:16  

  • I have to agree with the fellow above. This is by far seems to be the best informed blog, and the participants are respectful, well informed and have something valuable to say, outside of the usual ranting that we see all the time.

    By Anonymous Robert_V, At 16 February, 2008 14:37  

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