Linda Sanchez and Loretta Sanchez

WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)–The bulk of female superdelegates–high-ranking politicians at liberty to vote for whomever they wish at the national convention in August–remain loyal to Sen. Hillary Clinton. The tight race for the Democratic nomination is now even more intensified in Pennsylvania ahead of the April 22 primary there.

Sen. Barack Obama, however, has been making inroads among these powerful political women, who comprise about one-third of the roughly 800 superdelegates. About 60 percent of those who have made public endorsements prefer Clinton, according to data compiled March 20 by Democratic Convention Watch 2008, a blog that tracks allegiances of superdelegates.

All female governors, senators and House members are superdelegates; as such, they can back the candidate of their choice regardless of the outcome of their states’ nominating contests. Around 200 influential women in the party establishment, such as political strategist and television commentator Donna Brazile, also serve as superdelegates. About half of those women have endorsed a candidate; of those, 57 percent back Clinton.

Many other prominent women–including two female governors, at least six female senators and nearly 30 female representatives in the House–back Clinton.

The six female superdelegates from Pennsylvania back Clinton 5-to-1.

Last week, Montana state legislator Margaret Campbell let it slip that she backs Obama, becoming one of the latest female superdelegates to at least unofficially throw her weight behind the Illinois senator in his race against the New York senator.

Campbell’s statement follows a spate of endorsements for Obama by female superdelegates over the last month.

So far this month, at least five female superdelegates have made their opinions public, according to news reports compiled by Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia. Four of those have backed Obama, and one–Helen Langan of Utah–withdrew earlier support for Clinton and now says she is undecided. In March, the views of at least 10 female superdelegates were made known, according to Wikipedia; nine of those backed Obama.

The highest-ranking woman in Democratic politics, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, has said she will vote for whichever candidate wins the most pledged delegates. That noncommittal position probably translates into a vote for Obama, given his lead–1,414 to 1,243–in “pledged” delegates, who are required to support the candidate who won their state’s primary or caucus.

Klobuchar Endorsed Obama

A heavy blow for Clinton came on March 31 when one of her Senate colleagues, Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, broke her pledge to stay neutral and endorsed Obama, who won her state’s Feb. 5 primary. “It was a difficult decision,” she said in a radio interview at the time. “A significant factor was the support of my state but also my own independent judgment.”

Klobuchar received $10,000 campaign contributions from both Clinton and Obama through their political action committees.

Also backing Obama are prominent female politicians including Govs. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Christine Gregoire of Washington state; Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri; and Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, a member of the House leadership structure.

Pundits say it is near impossible for Clinton to overcome Obama in pledged delegates in the remaining 10 primaries. So her campaign is now widely assumed to be basing its long-shot hopes on securing a strong majority of superdelegates so she can reach the 2,024 delegate total needed to clinch her party’s nomination.

Even if she recruits a majority of the uncommitted superdelegates, Clinton will likely need superdelegates from the states of Michigan and Florida–which have been disqualified because their state parties violated national party rules when scheduling their primaries–to become the nominee. It is unclear whether delegates from those two states will be able to vote at the convention.

Shifting Momentum

Jennifer Lawless, a professor of political science at Brown University who ran a failed bid for Congress in the 2006 midterm elections, doubts Clinton can pull it out. “Even among female superdelegates, the momentum is now on his side,” Lawless said.

Many female superdelegates may have backed Clinton out of loyalty to Clinton and her husband, Lawless said, and many made endorsements early in the race, when polls showed she was the frontrunner.

Clinton is still heavily favored by female superdelegates, many of whom are older, eager to see a woman in the White House and have ties to the candidate through her Senate work or her husband when he was in the White House.

Clinton claims a solid majority of female members of Congress and the 100-odd Democratic National Committee women who have endorsed a candidate, according to the superdelegate watch blog, which is run by a group of Democrat activists who have not taken sides in the primary election.

Clinton is also the favorite among African American, Latina and Asian female superdelegates in Congress.

Of the 13 African American women in the House, eight back Clinton, four back Obama and one is undecided. Of the six female Hispanic Democrats, five back Clinton and one backs Obama. And of the two Asian women in the House, one backs Clinton and one is undecided.

Obama Gives More Money

As of Jan. 11, Obama has given female superdelegates $132,400 in the past two election cycles through his leadership political action committee, Hope Fund, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog group in Washington, D.C. That is more than twice the $54,500 Clinton gave to female superdelegates through her leadership political action committee, HillPAC.

Superdelegate Reps. Loretta and Linda Sanchez of California–the only pair of sisters to ever serve in the House–reflect the Clinton v. Obama split.

Linda, 39 and the younger by nine years, backs Obama while Loretta, 48, favors Clinton.

“She’s the most competent, she understands the issues best and, more important, she knows how to work with people,” Loretta Sanchez told Women’s eNews.

Linda Sanchez says Obama “is very principled, he lets people know where he stands on issues, and he doesn’t waver in that opposition or try to pander to certain groups or constituencies.” She says gender is not enough of a reason to vote for Clinton. “To me, it’s not enough to say, ‘She’s a woman. I’m a woman. And therefore she deserves my vote.'”

Allison Stevens is Washington bureau chief at Women’s eNews.

[Previously by Allison Stevens]

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