Obama Race Speech Keeps a Maine Superdelegate on the Fence

If the feelings of Sam Spencer are any measure, Barack Obama’s speech about race on March 18 may just have done the trick in terms of reassuring the all-important uncommitted superdelegates about his general-election viability.

“On Sunday we had a Democratic State Committee meeting and several members came up to me,” Spencer, an uncommitted superdelegate from Maine, told me. “They were very concerned about what was happening with Jeremiah Wright and Senator Obama. I watched clips of the speech yesterday, and I thought it was a very moving, powerful speech. And I was glad that it wasn’t trite, as it was maybe easier to treat the subject. It was subtle and it was real and it was honest. My own sense is that this went a very long way towards eliminating the Jeremiah Wright situation as an issue that is going to dog him in the campaign.”

Spencer maintained his neutrality in the race—a function, he said, of his belief that the superdelegate role in the nominating process was less than fully democratic, and of an oath he made to stay uncommitted until all states had voted and the candidates had exhausted all possibilities of settling the race themselves.

He has maintained this principled neutrality in the face of enormous pressure from the Obama and Clinton campaigns.

Spencer, who worked in the Clinton White House for three years in the Presidential Personnel Office before becoming a special assistant to Vice President Al Gore, has been hearing a lot from old friends loyal to the Clintons. At the same time, though, his partner in a developing business is the chairman of Obama’s Maine campaign.

“I take it from all sides,” he said.

He has met with Hillary Clinton, received a call from Obama and spoken with Myesha Ward, an Obama operative who tracked delegates for John Kerry’s presidential campaign. On Wednesday, he received a call from the Clinton campaign asking him to meet with former President Clinton at a campaign event in Boston.

“The Obama campaign and more recently the Clinton campaign has also done a good job of ginning up their grass-roots supporters to contact me,” he said, referring to the letters, e-mails, and phone calls that take up much of his day.

He said that he didn’t quite buy Obama’s argument that superdelegates should follow the will of the people, because in a proportional system, the will of the people is not winner-take-all.

“I think it’s an oversimplification,” he said. “Because in the Democratic Party we have proportional allocation. On the day of the caucus it was a very snowy day. Tens of thousands of Hillary Clinton supporters waited on line in the snow to vote and she won her share of delegates—they won 40 percent of the delegates.”

So, Spencer said, in light of Obama’s speech, he will continue to reserve judgment.

“I think that normally politicians act defensive and try to shift blame and try to avoid controversial things,” he explained. “I think in that speech he seemed to take it on. The easiest thing would have been to say, ‘I barely know the guy.’ I never heard him say anything like that.” But to acknowledge the reality of how people, like the black church community, really think—I think it represented a new type of honesty and forthrightness and non-oversimplification of a deeply complex issue in our nation’s history.”

He added, “He is a hard politician to sort of caricaturize because he is so real.”

Obama Race Speech Keeps a Maine Superdelegate on the Fence