Ten Govs Still Neutral in Obama-Clinton Race

By: - February 25, 2008 12:00 am

The 10 Democratic governors still on the sidelines in the White House race are staying there for now and are agonizing about the role they’ll play as “super-delegates” who could cast tie-breaking votes in selecting the party’s nominee.


Of the 10 uncommitted governors, five are from states whose voters haven’t yet weighed in on the choice between U.S. Sen. Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president.


Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal remains uncommitted after saying last year that the candidates were not paying enough attention to issues important to the West, namely energy, water, public lands and the environment. 

With Wyoming’s Democratic caucus coming up March 8, he said he gets phone calls from both campaigns. “I’ve gotten a lot more information from them about those issues in the last couple weeks than I’ve ever gotten before,” said Freudenthal, who is attending the annual National Governors Association conference in Washington, D.C.

While the Obama and Clinton camps quietly pursue the uncommitted, the role of all 28 Democratic governors is taking on added importance as chances go up that neither nominee will win the necessary 2,025 delegates from state primaries and caucuses to clinch the nomination outright. In that case, the nearly 800 super-delegates comprised of party leaders and elected officials might have to choose between the two.


“If there is a tie, we have a real obligation to figure out how to break the logjam without tearing the party apart,” Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said between sessions at the NGA meeting.


His role as super-delegate is one of the key reasons Bredesen said he has refrained from endorsing. “It makes sense for me and others to remain neutral. I’m keeping in good communication with both candidates. I’ve certainly talked to both of them in the last two weeks.”
As governor of the host state of the Democratic convention in Denver, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter said from the beginning he would not stump for a candidate. However, he said he has spoken with Clinton and Obama, who won the Colorado Democratic caucus Feb. 5, and has good relations with both campaigns. “If it’s a brokered convention, that’s even a stronger reason to be in a good position with them both,” he said, referring to a situation in which neither candidate has won enough delegates outright and a nominee is determined at the convention.


West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin has stayed on the sidelines because of his role as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association and said his colleagues are hopeful it won’t come down to the super-delegates. That scenario would make the convention “a little more dicey than I think anyone would like to see it.”  Manchin said if he does decide to endorse, it will be closer to when West Virginia has its primary May 13.


Super-delegates face the tough choice of whether to vote for the candidate they personally favor or for the candidate who won their state’s primary. “I certainly don’t consider myself to have any total obligation as a super-delegate to go the way the state votes,” said Tennessee’s Bredesen. Clinton won the Tennessee’s Feb. 5 primary.

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley, another uncommitted governor, agreed. “I’m going to vote the way I want to.” North Carolina’s primary is May 6.


Clinton and Obama differ on what should determine the vote of super-delegates. Clinton’s campaign has said that super-delegates should vote their conscience, regardless how their states voted, while Obama has indicated super-delegates should back the candidate who won the most pledged delegates in their state.


Former Democratic presidential contender Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico is critical of the role the super-delegates may play. “I just think super-delegates have too much influence. It should be voters in states,” he told CNN Feb. 18. “It shouldn’t be, you know, fat cats, big contributors, politicians deciding this.” Clinton narrowly won the New Mexico’s Democratic caucus.


Richardson, who dropped out of the race Jan. 10 after fourth-place finishes in both the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, is one of the most heavily courted of the 10 uncommitted governors. When asked whether he was getting tired of the onslaught of attention from the Obama and Clinton campaigns, Richardson smiled broadly and said simply, “No,” as he got onto an elevator between sessions of the NGA meeting.


Even one of the newest governors, Steve Beshear, elected governor of Kentucky last fall, said he was receiving “lots of phone calls from governors and other folks around the country, talking about the campaign.” He said he hasn’t decided whether he will endorse. Kentucky holds its primary May 20.


However, not every governor still sitting on the fence is on the Obama or Clinton campaign’s speed dial. “Some of us have been so neutral that we don’t even get the phone calls,” Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said. Montana’s primary is June 3, the final day of the 2008 presidential nominating schedule.


The phones also are quiet in the governor’s house in New Hampshire, which held the first-in-the-country primary Jan. 8. “I’ve been very clear that I’m going to stay neutral,” said New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch. “I really wanted to be an ambassador for New Hampshire and welcome all the candidates, both Republicans and Democrats, and I’m going to continue that neutrality for the foreseeable future,” he said between sessions at the NGA meeting.


The uncommitted governors got subtle nudging from their colleagues during the NGA meeting. “The 18 who have chosen have had very strong feelings. So we do hear quite frequently from our colleagues,” said West Virginia’s Manchin.


If a governor’s endorsement indeed helps with state voters, Clinton has an advantage heading into Ohio ‘s crucial primary on March 4 and contests in Pennsylvania on April 22 and Oregon on May 20. The Democratic governors there all support the U.S. senator from New York . Ten of the 28 Democratic governors have publicly endorsed Clinton while eight have backed Obama.


Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland missed the first part of the NGA Feb. 23-25 meeting because he was on the campaign trail with Clinton.   

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