I am a super delegate

By Janet Zink, Times Staf Writer
Published February 17, 2008

With Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama running neck and neck in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, attention has turned to the party's nearly 800 superdelegates who are free to vote for whomever they choose at the convention. Their votes could decide the nomination. - Superdelegates, including Democratic governors, members of Congress and national party leaders, make up 20 percent of the 4,049 total delegates. A candidate needs 2,025 to win the nomination. - One superdelegate is U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, 41, in her first term representing the 11th District that includes much of Hillsborough County and parts of Pinellas and Manatee counties.We asked Castor about the process and this unusual primary season. Here's what she had to say in an interview with Times staff writer Janet Zink:

Have you made up your mind?

I've been neutral. I announced back when the national Democratic Party failed to reach a solution on moving up Florida's primary, well if the candidates are not going to campaign in Florida, there's no reason to endorse any of them.

Have the candidates been in touch with you to seek your support? We hear Chelsea Clinton is making calls on behalf of her mother.

Chelsea has not called. I have been contacted by the campaigns. When the campaign season got under way, the candidates would invite members of Congress to hear the candidates. I never did that. I've been very focused on learning the ropes here and being a good member of Congress. My constituents didn't send me up here to get right involved in presidential politics. They sent me up here to work on health care and housing and the war in Iraq.

With the contest heating up, have you been lobbied harder by the campaigns in recent weeks?

There's more direct member-to-member contact. Certain members of Congress who are working hard for the candidate, they approach you fairly regularly and encourage you to come out and make an endorsement.

How will you decide whom to support?

I was very interested in the election results in my congressional district, and Senator Obama won my congressional district. That's going to be a very important factor, how the folks that I represent voted. It's not the determining factor, but it is one very important factor. I would hope that all the superdelegates take their responsibility very seriously, and certainly every superdelegate that's a member of Congress should be considering who their districts voted for. But it's not a determining factor.

What other factors are you considering?

Another factor is which candidate can be most successful in November and which candidate has a vision for this country. Another factor is their interest in how we provide health care in Hillsborough County. How they see that fitting into their future policy plans. This is a model that could be shared across the country - to focus on prevention. The people of Hillsborough County have stepped up and are paying a half-cent sales tax to keep people out of the emergency room and get them in to see primary care doctors in clinics. It's the way health care should be delivered on a community-wide basis.

When did you learn you were a superdelegate? Does somebody - Howard Dean maybe - call you or e-mail you?

I understood that Democratic members of Congress were automatically designated as superdelegates.

What do you think about the situation in Florida? Although the national party stripped the state of its delegates, there's talk about trying to seat them.

I anticipate the issue will be moot over the next few weeks and a nominee will emerge and that nominee will ensure that the Florida delegation attends the convention and is seated. In a couple months that will be a distant memory. The issues will be a focus of this race. There is going to be a stark difference between the Democratic nominee, whether that's Senator Clinton or Senator Obama, and the Republican nominee, on policy.

Do you think it was appropriate to strip Florida of its delegates?

Howard Dean should have developed a workable solution at that time, rather than put it off and now it's something of an issue. And very ironic isn't it? If the Republican-led Legislature hadn't taken the action that it did, and Howard Dean didn't take the direction he did, it would have been a massive election.

If Florida's delegates aren't seated, will your vote as a superdelegate count?

There's a Florida DNC member who I believe sent a letter to Howard Dean saying Florida superdelegates do count notwithstanding the penalty on the other delegates. I haven't read the direct language on that in the DNC rules.

As a Democrat, what strikes you as you watch this unusual primary season unfold? Does it give you confidence in the current system or raise questions for you about how presidential candidates are chosen?

We need a much more equitable system. There is a move afoot to establish regional primaries in Congress. A number of bills have been filed. I'm a co-sponsor of congressman Alcee Hastings' bill.

What about the issue of superdelegates?

I think after this election there's going to be a lot of discussion about the role of superdelegates and a lot of reform ideas. I look forward to that debate. Part of the advantage of the superdelegates is that people who are attuned to public policy have the ability to weigh in on elections. But there is something somewhat undemocratic about it. But you cannot ignore what an exciting election this is. We have never had this competition during my lifetime. And that has just raised the profile of these superdelegates. They've never been an issue before and I'm very excited that new folks are interested in participating in the election and turnout has been substantial. People are clamoring for change in Washington.