Some Democratic superdelegates are tormented by indecision, unsure whether Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama is the right candidate to lead the party to victory in November.
But some, such as freshman Rep. Jason Altmire, seem to be rather enjoying themselves. Altmire has hemmed and hawed for months over whether to endorse before the April 22 primary in his home state of Pennsylvania, where he represents an evenly split district northwest of Pittsburgh. But this week, he decided: nah.
"I have been really happy with the way that this has played out for western Pennsylvania," Altmire said. Clinton, Obama and their surrogates have visited the area multiple times. At many of the events, Altmire could be seen lurking in the background, just another undecided voter checking out the Democratic merchandise.
The 4th District should be strong for Clinton, Altmire said, with its 120,000 senior citizens and blue-collar contours. Yet Obama also is drawing large and enthusiastic crowds. "The more people get to know him, the more they like him," Altmire said. "He has her beat on passion and enthusiasm, but it's still an uphill fight."
Despite Clinton's local strength, Altmire suspects that Obama may be a more helpful general-election candidate for Democrats like him who are defending swing districts. Altmire faces a rematch with Melissa Hart, the Republican incumbent he defeated in 2006. Clinton's name on the ballot could draw out conservatives who might otherwise stay home because of their lack of enthusiasm for Sen. John McCain. "I think that reignites the [Republican] base," Altmire said. With Obama, he said, "they may not be stirred up."
Some of his House colleagues groan at Altmire's hard-to-get act, convinced that he's an Obama man who is playing it safe for political reasons -- and because he likes the attention.
Altmire has been in close touch with both campaigns for many months. Obama started wooing Altmire and his friend Rep. Patrick Murphy, a fellow freshman from suburban Philadelphia, last fall. At a meeting in November -- long before anyone thought Pennsylvania would be a factor -- Michelle Obama sketched out for Altmire and Murphy how the race would unfold. Her blueprint has proved remarkably accurate, with the Keystone State playing a prominent role. "It really impressed upon me that they knew what they were doing," Altmire said.
But while Murphy decided to endorse Obama, Altmire continues to hold back. And today he says he's more reluctant than ever, thanks to the changing tone of the race.
Back home over the Easter break, Altmire said: "When I would attend a rally for Senator Obama, people would call in to say, 'If he supports Obama, I could never support him again.' The difference is, three months ago, people were saying, 'Isn't it great that we have two appealing candidates?'
"There's a noticeable difference in the comments I get from either side," he continued. "It's very worrisome, which is why I think we need to wrap this up as soon as possible." He advocates a "quick decision" by all parties, superdelegates included, after the final primaries on June 3.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen is thinking big about the 2008 election.
Taking his cues from Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), who led Democrats back into the majority in 2006 by drastically broadening the number of competitive races, Van Hollen projects as many as 50 Republican seats in play this fall.
To make good on that sort of commitment, Van Hollen's DCCC needs money -- and lots of it.
If the first three months of 2008 are any indication, his committee is well on its way. From Jan. 1 to March 31, the DCCC raised $20 million and, more impressively, retained a massive $44 million in the bank to spend on races. In the last month alone, the DCCC collected more than $11 million and added $6 million to its total cash on hand.
That fundraising pace puts the House Democratic campaign arm far ahead of where it was at this time last cycle -- a reflection, at least in part, of the difference between being in the minority then and in the majority now. At the end of March 2006, the DCCC had raised just short of $15 million, with $23 million on hand.
More important, the DCCC's fundraising in this election cycle continues to dwarf that of its GOP counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee. The NRCC has yet to release its fundraising figures for the first quarter of 2008, but through the first two months of the year, the committee had collected $8.3 million, with $5 million left in the bank.
Van Hollen, however, insisted that the financial edge his committee holds over the NRCC is somewhat misleading. "You can't just look at the money playing field as if it's just two entities," Van Hollen said. "There are a whole universe of other players out there."