N.J. superdelegate for Clinton now undecided

February 8, 2008 11:29:10 AM PST
Recent remarks by Hillary Clinton and former President Clinton prompted one of New Jersey's superdelegates to reconsider her support of the former first lady and move to an undecided status. Clinton still retains a commanding lead among the state's so-called Democratic superdelegates - members of Congress and other party leaders who are not selected in primaries and caucuses and who are free to change their minds about whom they support.

Because they are not bound to a particular candidate, the 796 Democratic superdelegates could play a pivotal role in the party's nominating convention in August. Clinton and Barack Obama need 2,025 votes to capture the prize. Nationally, Clinton has 1,045 delegates to 960 for Obama, with nearly all Super Tuesday primaries tallied.

Clinton's victory in the New Jersey primary gave her 59 regular delegates, compared to 48 for Barack Obama, according to an Associated Press tally. Those delegates, who were awarded proportionally based on results in special primary districts and statewide totals, are pledged to support each candidate at the convention and typically honor those agreements.

New Jersey is also allocated 20 superdelegates, two of which won't be chosen until April. Of the 16 contacted since Tuesday's primary, Clinton has an 11-1 edge over Obama, with four undecided or uncommitted.

Of the two who could not be reached, one has previously said he supported Clinton, while the other was uncommitted. Including those two, Clinton has a 12-1 edge.

Democratic superdelegate Christine "Roz" Samuels of Montclair said she changed her preference for Clinton after remarks by the former president that cast Obama's candidacy as "a fairy tale."

"I'm disappointed in a few things that were said a few weeks ago by President Clinton," she said. "I'm going to have to revisit what I'm going to do between now and when we vote."

Samuels, a member of the Democratic National Committee and the executive committee of the state NAACP, also said she was troubled by Hillary Clinton's comments that Martin Luther King's dream of racial equality was realized only when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

And she questioned how Hillary Clinton's eyes welled up before last month's New Hampshire primary. "I am female, and I know we can cry at the drop of the hat," she said, "but that was a bit much."

"I just have to weigh this a little more closely," said Samuels, who works as a secretary to a school principal in Newark.

The lone New Jersey superdelegate in Obama's camp remained Rep. Steven Rothman of Fair Lawn.

Five of his six Democratic House colleagues, and Gov. Jon S. Corzine, continue to support Clinton, as does U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, state party chairman Joseph Cryan, and state Sen. Dana Redd of Camden.

Also for Clinton are two members of the Democratic National Committee, Tonio Burgos of Jersey City, and June Fischer of Scotch Plains.

Spokesmen for U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Rep. Rush Holt said they remain undecided.

"The senator believes they would both make great presidents," spokesman Scott Mulhauser said. "At this point, he has no plans to endorse."

Holt is planning to remain undecided until he attends the convention, spokesman Zach Goldberg said.

Also remaining undecided is Donald Norcross, a member of the Democratic National Committee, and president of the Southern New Jersey Central Labor Council in Pennsauken.

Repeated calls to two New Jersey superdelegates were not returned this week. Joseph DeCotiis, a member of the Democratic National Committee and a lawyer in Teaneck, has said he supported Clinton. Philip D. Murphy, of Middletown Township, finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee, has said he was uncommitted.

The Republican situation is more straightforward. Because he carried the state, John McCain received all the party's 52 New Jersey delegates, including three superdelegates, because the GOP has a winner-take-all method.

Nationally, McCain has a commanding lead in delegates, with 707 of the 1,191 needed to win the Republican nomination.