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Candidates Aggressively Court Superdelegates


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rene Montagne. And I'm Steven Inskeep.

Senator Barack Obama has now won eight straight Democratic nominating contests. And for the first time, he leads Senator Hilary Clinton in the delegate count. It's a very slim margin, and neither candidate has a clear enough lead in delegates to secure the presidential nomination. So both candidates are aggressively courting superdelegates.

MONTAGNE: And those superdelegates are essentially independents. They are powerful members of the party - governors, members of Congress, various party officials - who can make their own choices. They make up about a fifth of all available delegates and this year could decide the race. Sherrod Brown is one of them. He is a Democratic senator from Ohio and so far hasn't endorsed either candidate, joins us now to talk about this. Good morning.

Senator SHARROD BROWN (Democrat, Ohio): Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, your state's upcoming primary, it's on March 4th, could go a long way toward prolonging or deciding the race, so you must be hearing hourly from both sides.

Sen. BROWN: Certainly. I mean both sides are talking to superdelegates. They are talking to all kinds of activists in Ohio, and the excitement of this race is something I've never seen as a longtime elected official, longtime activist. And you know, my view is I want the millions of more people in Ohio and Wisconsin and Texas and Pennsylvania, North Carolina, to speak out and to be heard.

MONTAGNE: Well, let me ask how the pitches to you - and they are made to you personally - how do they differ, if they do, from the appeal that these campaigns are making to voters?

Sen. BROWN: They don't differ much. They are beginning to differ because I think you are going to see a different message in Ohio, in Wisconsin, and states that have been hard hit by manufacturing job loss. And I think the winner of these states - in Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania particularly - but the others too is, excuse me, is going to be the candidate with the big idea about what do we do to help the middle class, what do we do to restore manufacturing, alternative energy, trade, infrastructure, and I think the candidate that speaks most articulately and forcefully with a big idea about those issues will not just win Ohio in March, but will win Ohio in November and become the next president.

MONTAGNE: Right, but you're really speaking about the sort of pitch, if you will, they're making to voters. What about to you, though? Does it turn on such things as, I can be elected?

Sen. BROWN: Some, but I think that both candidates can make a good case that they, that - or Hilary can make that case, Barack can make that case - that each is the most electable. For me it really is, because they know what - I mean it really is about what are they going to do about Ohio and the middle class, what are they going to do in this country. And I think that they know the kind of race I ran in '06 for the Senate against an incumbent talking about those economic issues, how do you fight for the middle class, and they know that's what appeals to me for my support, and I've talked with them about trade and infrastructure and alternative energy for six months, each of them, when I see them in the hallway and going to vote in the Russell Building, for instance, or on the Senate floor.

So they know that message will work in Ohio and they know that's - I think both of them understand that's the way to govern once they are in office.

MONTAGNE: Now, stepping back for a moment, as a superdelegate, who are you most responsible - to the voters in your state or to your own judgment about who would be the best candidate for president? In other words, do you follow the voters or do you follow your own judgment?

Sen. BROWN: I think you ultimately follow your own judgment about what's best for the country, and that's - and I am going to certainly pay attention to people that talk to me, representing both candidates, or just people that talk to me in general. I'm going to listen to the voters in Ohio. A lot can happen between March and the August convention. I want to look at, you know, the movement of the country and I specifically want to hear, very specifically, what are they going to do for the middle class in Ohio and across the country.

MONTAGNE: Now, you haven't made a commitment, as we said, but more than half of the superdelegates have already endorsed either Clinton or Obama. How solid are those commitments?

Sen. BROWN: I think they're solid. I think that - I don't think many people in politics, for all the negative things we can say about all of us, if you give your word, just stick with it on something like this. And I think those that are committed, unless you know, unless one of the candidates gets far enough ahead that the other decides to drop out or that the other doesn't - it's not mathematically impossible but very unlikely that one of the candidates could win, then I think there are discussions. But I think people live up to their words.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Sen. BROWN: Glad to. Thank you, Rene.

MONTAGNE: Ohio senator and superdelegate Sherrod Brown. NPR political editor Ken Rudin looks at the controversial role superdelegates might play in the Democratic party's nominating process in his latest Political Junkie column. That's at NPR.org/elections. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.