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Originally published February 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 12, 2008 at 12:23 PM

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Election 2008

8 of state's 17 superdelegates are perched on the fence

Washington's 7th Congressional District is Sen. Barack Obama country — that was obvious after Saturday's Democratic precinct caucuses...

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

Washington's superdelegates

Hillary Rodham Clinton

U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell; U.S. Reps. Norm Dicks and Jay Inslee; King County Executive Ron Sims; and former House Speaker Tom Foley

Barack Obama

Gov. Christine Gregoire; U.S. Rep. Adam Smith; and Democratic National Committee member Pat Notter

Uncommitted

State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz and Vice Chairwoman Eileen Macoll; Democratic National Committee members Ed Cote, Sharon Mast and David McDonald; U.S. Reps. Brian Baird, Rick Larsen and Jim McDermott

OLYMPIA -- Washington's 7th Congressional District is Sen. Barack Obama country -- that was obvious after Saturday's Democratic precinct caucuses. Given that fact, you might think the district's congressman, U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, would be eager to jump on the Obama bandwagon.

But with the race between Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton still extremely close nationwide, McDermott is in no hurry to pick sides.

"My experience tells me, 'Jim, just sit tight and watch,' " McDermott said Monday.

McDermott's opinion matters a great deal. As one of the Democratic Party's so-called "superdelegates," he gets an automatic pass to participate in the party's national convention this summer.

Superdelegates include party leaders, all Democratic members of Congress, Democratic governors and former high-ranking elected officials. There are 796 superdelegates nationwide -- including 17 in Washington -- and they make up about 20 percent of the total delegates.

Six of Washington's superdelegates, including Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, are supporting Clinton. Three, including Gov. Christine Gregoire, are backing Obama.

As of Monday, it appeared the remaining eight were taking the same tack as McDermott -- remaining neutral for now.

Nationwide, Clinton has about 224 superdelegates in her corner, compared with 135 for Obama, according to the latest tally by CNN.

But Obama holds a slight lead in the number of delegates won through caucuses and primary elections, and there is growing speculation that neither candidate will win enough of those delegates to secure the nomination. In that case, the decision could come down to the superdelegates, who can vote for whomever they want to, regardless of caucus or primary outcomes.

During a news conference Friday in Seattle, Obama said if he wins a majority of the caucus and primary delegates, he should get the nomination. He said "it would be problematic for political insiders to overturn the judgment of the voters."

If that happened, there would be "an enormous backlash" within the party, said U.S. Rep. Adam Smith of Tacoma, Obama's campaign chairman in this state.

Murray, who said Monday she is sticking with Clinton, is apparently not worried about such a scenario.

"I'm confident that in the coming months the voters will render a final decision and that, by the time of the convention, we will be united in taking back the White House," Murray said in a statement.

Smith said the Obama campaign is not saying superdelegates already committed to Clinton -- even those in states like Washington where Obama won handily -- should switch right now. But if Obama wins a majority of the regular delegates, Smith said, "Then, yes, I would definitely be asking them to change."

And his message to undecided superdelegates is this: "The strongest consideration should be not to overturn the will of the elected delegates."

Smith doesn't dispute that what he's arguing for is, in essence, doing away with the party's superdelegate system.

"Either you trust your voters in the Democratic caucuses and primary or you don't," Smith said.

Washington's undecided superdelegates include state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz and Vice Chairwoman Eileen Macoll.

Pelz said he will not announce a choice until shortly before the national convention.

"It's not my job to take sides in this race at this point," he said.

Pelz and Macoll said Obama's big win here would be a major factor in their decisions. But Macoll said she also will weigh how the candidates fare in other big states that she sees as key to winning in November.

Macoll is a former real-estate agent who now volunteers full time for the party from her home in Pullman. Like most undecided superdelegates, she has been getting wooed by a lot of people in high places.

Last week, she was invited to ride in the car with Clinton during the senator's campaign stop in Spokane. She's missed repeated calls from former President Bill Clinton, been lobbied by several congressmen and met with Obama in December.

"I'm getting a lot of attention and I'll tell you, for a little country mouse like me, it's a big deal," Macoll said.

Like Rep. Smith, Congressman Rick Larsen of Lake Stevens said he is not a fan of the superdelegate process. "I tend to trust the grass roots," he said.

Larsen said that's partly why he's waiting to make up his mind about which candidate to back.

McDermott echoed that but said his bottom line is helping the party find the candidate who will have the best chance of beating the Republicans in November.

McDermott and Larsen said the Democrats could hurt their chances if they get into a long and divisive argument over superdelegates.

"I'll say this to the Obama and Clinton campaigns: 'Stop spinning all these scenarios and just get the delegates you need to win the nomination,' " Larsen said.

Ralph Thomas: 360-943-9882 or rthomas@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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