The Nation — Georgia Congressman John Lewis, the Civil Rights movement veteran whose early and until-now steady support helped Hillary Clinton maintain a measure of political credibility in the African-American community, has announced that he will cast his superdelegate vote at this summer’s Democratic National Convention for Barack Obama.
Lewis is not formally switching his endorsement from Clinton to Obama at this point — although the former aide to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. suggests that such a shift could come in short order. But his pledge to vote for the Illinois senator at the convention certainly increases the pressure on superdelegates who represent congressional districts and states that vote for Obama — especially African-American federal and state officials — to embrace the will of their constituents.
Superdelegates are elected officials and party leaders who are guaranteed delegate slots at the party convention and are allowed to vote as they choose in the presidential contest. They are not bound by the results of primaries and caucuses in their states but, as the Lewis shift illustrates, they may be influences by the returns.
Obama won 66 percent of the vote in Georgia on Super Tuesday — one of his best finishes in any state that has voted so far — and took 35 delegates to 19 for Clinton. Obama won by a 3-1 margin in the Atlanta-area district that Lewis represents.
That result, along with the growing sense that the Illinoisan’s campaign is transforming the political landscape of the Democratic party, has caused Lewis to announce he side with Obama at the convention in Denver.
“In recent days, there is a sense of movement and a sense of spirit,” explained Lewis, whose influence among African-American House members and many of their white liberal colleagues is substantial. “Something is happening in America and people are prepared and ready to make that great leap.”
Lewis is the second African-American congressman from Georgia to announce that, despite having endorsed Clinton, he will cast his superdelegate vote for Obama when it comes time to nominate a candidate. Congressman David Scott, whose 13th district cast close to 80 percent of its vote for Obama in the February 5 Democratic presidential primary, announced last week that he would respect the wishes of his constituents.
In Wisconsin this week, Congressman Ron Kind announced that he would cast his superdelegate vote for the candidate who wins his 3rd district in the February 19 election.
After being lobbied aggressively by both the Clinton and Obama camps, Kind said, “I’m going to keep faith with the voters and respect their choice.”
If this keep-faith-with-the-voters standard takes hold, it will turn up the heat on a number of key Clinton backers. For instance, New York Congressmen Edolphus Towns and Gregory Meeks represent districts that voted solidly for Obama, as does New York Congressman Yvette Clarke.
In Wisconsin, Clinton campaign co-chair Tammy Baldwin represents a Madison-area district where Obama appears to be running well going into next Tuesday’s primary. If Baldwin’s 2nd district does indeed back the senator from Illinois, the popular representative will undoubtedly be asked by Obama’s enthusiastic local backers to follow the lead of fellow Wisconsinite Kind.
But the pressure on superdelegates to vote like the voters will not always favor Obama. For instance, Massachusetts Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, both Obama backers, could come under pressure to cast convention votes that reflect the Bay State’s support of Clinton in its February 5 primary.