Key Superdelegates Will Look to Montana Voters Before Deciding

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said Montana’s June primary voters will influence the key votes they hold as Democratic superdelegates for the party’s presidential candidate pick.

Schweitzer, like six of the state’s seven superdelegates, says he is waiting to commit to either Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

The superdelegates can endorse whomever they choose — and are now highly sought after in a close Democratic race for the party’s nomination.

Schweitzer said he will wait to decide until after the state’s June 3 primary. In an unusual election year, that primary could actually come into play if Obama and Clinton are still fighting it out.

The primary is meant to decide the allegiance of Montana’s regular delegates, but it will not bind the superdelegates. Schweitzer, however, says he will watch to see what Montana voters do anyway.

But he says he can’t guarantee he will vote for the winner of the primary. He said a scenario where one wins the Montana primary by just a few votes, but has gained momentum elsewhere, could prompt him to do something else.

“I don’t know how this thing shakes out,” Schweitzer said.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said “the outcome of the Montana primary will be a big factor in Jon’s decision.”

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus was more cautions — and less specific. How would he make his decision if Obama and Clinton are still fighting it out this summer?

“Carefully,” Baucus said.

One blogger has been pressuring the superdelegates to respect the decision Montana voters make in the June primary. But Jay Stevens, of Left in the West, said he understands they might not be able to side with the winner of the primary.

“The one thing I don’t want is superdelegates trading votes for favors,” said Stevens, who is from Missoula.

Stevens’ Internet posts on the subject prompted Schweitzer to call him. He said the governor told him his decision would be made in the open, and not as part of any trades.

“I feel a lot better about it today than I did a week ago,” Stevens said.

Another active Democrat and fellow blogger, Matt Singer, said he believes the superdelegates should not tie themselves to the primary vote.

He said they should be allowed to change course if a late-breaking scandal or changing conditions were to harm one of the candidates. The superdelegates could come in and pick the stronger candidate for Democrats, he said.

Singer said he would be surprised if superdelegates otherwise voted to overturn the decision made in the primaries.

One superdelegate came out last week in support of Obama. Ed Tinsley, a Lewis and Clark County commissioner, said he believes Obama has more support among Montana Democrats.

“I felt it in my gut, and I said let’s go with it,” Tinsley said. “I didn’t get into politics, into public service, just to sit on the sidelines.”

Margaret Campbell says she will most likely wait until after the June primary to announce a decision. But if she decides earlier, it will be because she finds one candidate has more support among Democrats where she lives in eastern Montana.

“I definitely want to know how people in Montana feel,” she said.

Jeanne Lemire Dahlman say the primary result will factor into her decision, and she is committed to waiting until June to announce a decision for herself. And she is hoping the race remains close until June.

“My dream is that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will have to come to Montana and campaign,” she said.