Chuck on the Spot for Hillary, for Now

Senator Chuck Schumer is in the middle of the biggest political process story in recent memory.

This is O.K. with him.

As a de facto spokesman for the Hillary Clinton campaign on the issue of the ever-developing delegate fight, he’s not only the frontman for his junior-but-higher-profile colleague on a matter of political life or death, but he will doubtless put himself in place, should events make it possible, to broker a party-rescuing deal on behalf of his candidate.

The difficult part is what he does until then. The Clinton campaign, for the moment, trails Barack Obama in terms of pledged delegates, and Mr. Schumer is stuck in the difficult-to-defend position of having to advocate a determinative role at the convention for (unelected) superdelegates and (illegitimately elected) delegates from Michigan and Florida.

The strain shows.

After a press conference this week in his midtown office on the subject of some new Amtrak security measures, I asked him about what he’s been referring to as the “internecine battle” over delegates.

“In general, as I’ve said, there are different views about the superdelegates,” he said, echoing the equally noncommittal comments he’d made a day earlier on Meet the Press. “Some people say they should just vote by popular choice. Some people say they should vote their conscience. No one is demanding right now that [Obama supporter] Ted Kennedy switch his vote because Massachusetts voted differently than him.”

Afterward, Mr. Schumer said that if neither candidate secures the nomination, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama would have to come up with some kind of an agreement.

“I don’t think it’s a great moral issue, which way the superdelegates ought to vote,” he added.

But, of course, it is. Asked last week by Observer reporter Jason Horowitz whether there wouldn’t be open revolt within the party if the results of the primaries and caucuses were effectively overturned by party-appointed delegates, Mr. Schumer said no, but with a fairly massive condition.

“If the election is that close that 10 superdelegates going one way rather than the other way [decides it]? No,” he said. “People will say it was a very close election.”

And if the gap is more than 10?

The New York Times reported shortly after that interview was published that “Mrs. Clinton’s advisers said they were looking to bring the margin down significantly below 100 in hope of arguing that the result was too close for delegates to consider in deciding how to vote.”

Tricky stuff, even for Chuck Schumer.

Chuck on the Spot for Hillary, for Now