Dem Superdelegate: Why I Chose Hillary

This might seem a strange time for a superdelegate to announce support for Hillary Clinton. With just two weeks left in the primary season, the New York senator is trailing behind Barack Obama in both the delegate and superdelegate count. But while a majority of superdelegates have thrown their weight behind Obama in recent days, and some have even announced they are switching loyalties to Obama from Clinton, there are still a few newly decided Hillary backers. W. Craig Bashein, a 47-year-old litigator and Democratic superdelegate from the Cleveland area, is one of them. Bashein announced Wednesday that he'll be going to Denver in August to vote for Clinton.

Bashein says he fretted over the decision but in the end decided to go with the former First Lady because he thinks she's got better experience. And unlike Clinton's top strategists, whose primary argument to win over superdelegates these days is that their candidate is more electable, Bashein has a problem with that argument. He spoke to NEWSWEEK's Suzanne Smalley about his decision to go with Clinton. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: What do you think about the uproar over Senator Clinton's comments about Robert Kennedy?
W. Craig Bashein:
I do not in any way or fashion represent the Clinton campaign, (but) I think Senator Clinton was attempting to point out that at the time Senator Kennedy was in a nomination fight in June of that year, 1968. I don't think she meant anything other than that....She certainly didn't intend to offend anybody. I didn't interpret it as anything but perhaps an awkward way to say Senator Kennedy was involved in a nomination fight in June of that year.

After holding out for so long, what triggered your decision to come out for Clinton now?
I was appointed on May 12th to the superdelegate position, and after a couple weeks of careful consideration, I thought it was important to weigh in and make my support known for a candidate—in this case Senator Clinton.

Did you communicate with the campaign about the timing of your announcement?
No. Both campaigns had contacted me after I was appointed, congratulating me, obviously indicating they'd love my support. In terms of the timing of the announcement, I did not talk to their campaign other than to let Senator Clinton's campaign know that I would be supporting her.

How do you justify this decision given that Obama's ahead in the pledged delegate count? Is the popular vote something you considered?
It isn't because I think each superdelegate is going to announce their support at a different time and the popular vote at that time may change from candidate to candidate. One of the factors I certainly looked at was the fact that Senator Clinton did win [my state of] Ohio in the popular vote.

What kind of response are you getting from friends and colleagues?
I've gotten some good-natured teasing by my friends who are Obama supporters and some teasing from my friends who are McCain supporters, and I probably would have gotten that teasing whether I supported Senator Obama or Senator Clinton.

What about your kids? Do they talk about it at school?
My two oldest do, a 10-year-old and an 8-year-old. They discuss the campaign and current affairs … I think it was a little bit confusing to them when they heard that I pledged support for Senator Clinton [after having supported John Edwards previously], probably not appreciating that Senator Edwards had withdrawn from the race.

What do you think about Senator Clinton's rhetoric on Florida and Michigan and comparing the effort to seat them to the abolitionists' fight against slavery?
I hadn't heard any rhetoric about abolitionists, and I'm not sure I agree with the example, but I would say I think it's important for the Democratic Party, critically important, to make sure that the voters of Florida and Michigan—not only the voters, the delegates—are counted in the process. I would encourage, and I do encourage, both campaigns to sit down and try to reach a resolution with the Democratic Party where that can be done, and, obviously, if that resolution does not give either candidate a significant advantage, more likely you're going to have an agreement. I think it would be good for the party if both candidates can do that.

Do you think this ongoing, dragged-out [nomination] process is hurting the party? Are you concerned about it?
I'm not … From a historical standpoint, I think it's not unusual. It may be unusual more in the last decade, in the last two or three elections, but I don't think it's hurting the party. I think when our candidate is chosen, whoever that may be, I, like most Democrats, are going to get behind that candidate and fully support them and make sure either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama wins in November.

Do the superdelegates need to get a move on?
… I think the fact that I've come out in support of the candidate I chose is helping the process along. To the extent that a delegate is capable of doing that and is ready to do that, I'd encourage them to do it. If a delegate is not ready to pick—if they are, as I was, highly supportive of both candidates—it's a very difficult decision and each delegate obviously has to be comfortable with the decision they make and the timing in which they reach it. But to the extent that they have made the decision, I think it helps the process if the public is aware of that decision.

Are you worried about the party alienating African-American voters if, even though Obama has the pledged-delegate lead, superdelegates pick Clinton?
You mean if Clinton were to win the nomination?

Right. Based on the superdelegates because that's what it would take at this point.
Well, first of all, the delegate count is very close … I don't think that if either candidate wins we're going to alienate anybody. I certainly don't want to see any group, including African-Americans, feel alienated. If Senator Obama is the candidate I will be doing everything I can to support him, and I would hope that all Democrats, if Senator Clinton wins the process and wins the majority of delegates, that everyone would support her.

What did you weigh when you made your choice? Was it electability? Was it policies?
One thing about electability—it bothers me to hear discussion of electability. I think both of these candidates can and will beat John McCain regardless of who wins the nomination.

You don't buy the idea that she's more electable than Obama?
No, I don't think that way. I think she can beat John McCain and I think Senator Obama can beat John McCain, so when I looked at this decision it was not based on electability. They're both electable. I think it was a question of looking at two candidates who I highly supported. Torn decision, obviously. But two candidates who have similar policies, and I think Senator Clinton bringing a wealth of experience on both the domestic side and the foreign affairs side tipped it for me.

And you don't feel even a little shred of guilt or stress about giving it to the person who's behind?
No, I don't feel guilt. I made my decision, and I'm one in a number of thousands, and if everyone does that, we let the chips fall where they fall, and I think we'll get that much closer to seeing who our candidate is and getting behind that individual and making sure they win in November.

Are you actively engaged in trying to woo other undecided superdelegates?
No, I haven't spoken to any others about their decision.

How is the Clinton campaign advising you? Have they given you talking points?
They haven't asked me to speak to any media. There have been no talking points. Nothing.

What about the virtues of party unity? Isn't there a chance that coming out for Clinton at this point is further splitting the party and hurting chances for victory in November?
The quicker that we can reach a decision on a candidate, I think the quicker we can start making John McCain the focal point and his open endorsement of Bush administration policies. Nor do I think this process is going to cause a rift in the party.