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Sweet column: How the Obama team ginned up superdelegate controversy.

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How the Obama team ginned up superdelegate controversy.

WASHINGTON -- The Obama campaign and its shrewd manager, David Plouffe, have outsmarted the Clinton team when it comes to whipping up pressure on the unpledged Democratic delegates who may prove critical in determining who wins the Democratic presidential nomination.

"You know, this, this issue of how the superdelegates ought to vote, you know, this great epistemological, metaphysical issue, no one thought about it three months ago," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a Clinton supporter, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

When the delegate tallies started coming in from the first four primary and caucus states in January, there were so few delegates at stake that the numbers for Obama or Clinton were often aggregated -- the count of elected delegates pledged to Obama or Clinton plus the results of surveys by news organizations of the unpledged delegates who are entitled to attend the Democratic convention in Denver because they are elected officials or party activists.

The Obama campaign has embraced the commonly used word "superdelegate" as it has advanced the argument that these people should heavily consider the results of the primary or caucus votes in their localities and states when deciding whom to support.

Plouffe and company have been successful in underscoring the notion that there are two categories of delegates and they needed to be counted separately in stories, if for no other reason than the unpledged are able to change their minds up until the delegates gather in Denver.

By pounding the point home, most of the scorecards on the delegate count now separate out the pledged delegates from the unpledged. Plouffe's team has been able to argue --quite well so far -- that the distinctions are important. You can see why they are taking this tack.

According to NBC, Obama has 1116 elected delegates to Clinton's 985; Obama has 183 superdelegates to Clinton's 257. Obama has won 23 states and the District of Columbia and Virgin Islands to Clinton's 11. So far, Obama has racked up a popular vote of 9.3 million to Clinton's 8.6 million.

The Clinton campaign in the past days has been using the word "automatic" and not superdelegate. "As you know," said Clinton adviser Harold Ickes on Saturday, "we refer here in this campaign to them as automatic, not super. Super has some sort of sense that they are going to descend on us from Mars."

Whatever you call them -- superdelegates or automatic delegates -- they are the backbone of the Democratic party Obama is running to lead. These are the Democrats who will be there in the future no matter what. Obama has made a successful effort to bring in Republican and independent voters to the Democratic primary and caucus contests.

The permanent residents of the Democratic party should be able to feel as at home as these visitors. For now, the Obama forces have succeeded in shining a spotlight on superdelegates and enlarging the Obama "movement" to target them.

Ickes and the Clinton folks are on the defensive because of what Ickes called "all the controversy ginned up by the Obama campaign."

Ickes nailed what happened. Ginned up and ready to go.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on February 18, 2008 6:10 AM.

Lynn Sweet on CNN's "Reliable Sources" talking about campaign coverage. was the previous entry in this blog.

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