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2008 ELECTION: N.D. power voters

At least one of North Dakota's seven superdelegates to the Democratic National Convention says she's feeling no pressure despite the potentially pivotal role those delegates could play in a convention split between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barac...

At least one of North Dakota's seven superdelegates to the Democratic National Convention says she's feeling no pressure despite the potentially pivotal role those delegates could play in a convention split between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

"Not at all," said Mary Wakefield, Grand Forks, who is a superdelegate by virtue of her position as vice chairwoman of the state Democratic Party.

In part because she declared her support for Obama some time ago, Wakefield's phone hasn't been ringing off the hook with calls from one campaign or the other. Superdelegates around the country - especially those who remain officially uncommitted - report having heartfelt conversations with everyone from former President Bill Clinton (on his wife's behalf) to actor George Clooney, an Obama supporter.

"I don't feel left out at all," Wakefield said, laughing.

"There is no sideshow here for me," she said. "It's all about the selection of a leader who's going to be extremely important for many years to come, and for me, it's a considerable privilege."


Unlike elected convention delegates chosen in primaries and at caucuses, the 796 superdelegates gained their status by holding national or state party office. In North Dakota, that includes Sen. Kent Conrad (declared for Obama), Sen. Byron Dorgan (uncommitted) and Rep. Earl Pomeroy (Obama).

David Strauss, Bismarck, the state party chairman, and Democratic National Committee member Renee Pfenning, also of Bismarck, are uncommitted. DNC member Jim Maxson, a Minot attorney and former state senator, is supporting Obama.

(In Minnesota, six of 14 superdelegates support Obama, three have announced for Clinton, and five are uncommitted, including Rep. Collin Peterson. Two more superdelegates will be chosen at the state party convention in June.)

No North Dakota superdelegate, so far, has announced for Clinton. But her supporters are trying to make inroads.

"Chelsea Clinton has called my house," Pfenning said. "And because I have a labor background (she is a registered lobbyist for the state Building and Construction Trades Council), I've heard from some national labor activists.

"The national campaigns do their homework, and they try to match the callers to your interests," she said. "I've had a fair amount of calls the past week. But I'm uncommitted and I plan on remaining uncommitted."

Pfenning said that if the race between Clinton and Obama "comes down to the convention, the results of the North Dakota caucuses will play a role in my decision," but she left that vague. Obama defeated Clinton at those caucuses, 61 percent to 37 percent.

Strauss, the state party chairman, said he believes it "would be problematic if superdelegates determined a nominee until after the primaries and caucuses," causing hard feelings among some in the party and jeopardizing the Democratic nominee's chances in the fall.


"I pretty much staked out my position that I don't intend to make my decision until after the primaries and caucuses," he said. "I think the voters should have their say first.

"I have communicated with the Clinton and Obama campaigns and told them that calls from their people will not influence my decision. I get some anyway."

Strauss said the campaign for the party's presidential nomination is "a very serious process, and I don't like the sort of sideshow we've been seeing, with national stories about superdelegates getting phone calls" from celebrities and big political heavyweights.

"We're attempting to choose the leader of the free world," he said.

Pfenning said that she had been "leaning to John Edwards (the former North Carolina senator who bowed out of the campaign late last month), but I had not endorsed him because I was waiting to see how things would shake out."

The pressure to choose a favorite "comes with the territory," she said, "but at times, all the attention is a little overwhelming. It's something I've never seen in my lifetime, this interest in the public in who the next president is going to be."

Wakefield said that she isn't particularly worried about a possible scenario raised by some national commentators and others - that superdelegates could swing the nomination to the candidate who finishes the caucus and primary marathon behind in elected delegates.

"There will be a part for everybody in this," she said. "The superdelegates are an important segment, and there are other important segments, and at the end of the day all the different groups will have a say in this.


"So, no, I'm not losing sleep over the process. The process is engaging lots of people."

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102, (800) 477-6572, ext. 102, or chaga@gfherald.com .

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