Saturday, February 16, 2008

NYTimes on Avoiding Convention Rift

Democrats Look for Way to Avoid Convention Rift

Published: February 16, 2008

Former Vice President Al Gore and a number of other senior Democrats plan to remain neutral for now in the presidential race in part to keep open the option to broker a peaceful resolution to what they fear could be a bitterly divided convention, party officials and aides said Friday.

Democratic Party officials said that in the past week Mr. Gore and other leading Democrats had held private talks as worry mounted that the close race between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton could be decided by a group of 795 party insiders known as superdelegates.

The signs that party elders are weighing whether and how to intervene reflects the extraordinary nature of the contest now and the concern among some Democrats that they not risk an internal battle that could harm the party in the general election.

But they also provided an early glimpse at the complex set of tradeoffs facing party leaders, from their desire to make their own influence felt to their worries about offending the candidates and particular constituencies — not to mention the long, sometimes troubled relationship between Mr. Gore and the Clintons.

The issues party leaders are grappling with, they said, include how to avoid the perception of a back-room deal that thwarts the will of millions of voters who have cast ballots in primaries and caucuses. That perception could cripple the eventual Democratic nominee’s chances of winning the presidency in November, they said.

A number of senior Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and three candidates who have dropped out of the 2008 race, former Senator John Edwards and Senators Christopher J. Dodd and Joseph R. Biden Jr., have spoken with Mr. Gore in recent days. None have endorsed a candidate, although Ms. Pelosi made comments on Friday that were widely seen as supportive of Mr. Obama when it came to the process the party should use to make its choice of candidate.

“It would be a problem for the party if the verdict would be something different than the public has decided,” Ms. Pelosi said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. Ms. Pelosi said she intended to remain neutral, though some of her closest friends and allies in the House are publicly supporting Mr. Obama.

She said the nomination should not be decided by delegates from Florida and Michigan allocated on the basis of voting in primaries there last month, as the Clinton campaign has proposed. Mrs. Clinton got more votes in both places, although neither candidate actively campaigned there and Mr. Obama was not even on the ballot in Michigan. The party had penalized those states for holding their primaries earlier than the party wanted by stripping them of their delegates to the convention.

“We can’t ignore the rules which everyone else played by,” Ms. Pelosi said.

Few figures are being more closely watched by Democratic insiders than Mr. Gore, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who associates say has been lobbied hard for an endorsement by allies of Mrs. Clinton and of Mr. Obama.

Although it is not clear what role their past may play in his decision, Mr. Gore and the Clintons have a complicated, sometimes intense history, and Mr. Obama’s strength in the presidential race could make it even more complicated.

Some of Mr. Gore’s allies have complained bitterly that Mr. Clinton concentrated more on Mrs. Clinton’s Senate run in 2000 than on getting Mr. Gore elected president. For his part, Mr. Clinton was surprised and hurt that Mr. Gore did not enlist him on the campaign trail in the final weeks of the presidential campaign.

Although Mr. Gore has expressed concerns to some associates about the damage a brokered convention could cause, several associates said he was hopeful that one candidate would soon break through, sparing the party such an outcome. He told a close friend recently that his decision not to endorse “feels like the right thing” and that he remained optimistic the race “is going to tip at some point,” the friend said.

Another close ally of Mr. Gore’s, however, said: “He recognizes the need for a few party elders to stay on the sidelines to ensure, if needed, that the process is fair and honest. It could very likely take a group of senior party people, including Gore, to settle this, but the only way they can settle it is if they stay on the sidelines now.”

Kalee Kreider, communications director for Mr. Gore, said that he “has no present plans to endorse a candidate,” though she added, “He has not ruled out that possibility prior to the convention.” Ms. Kreider declined to discuss Mr. Gore’s private conversations with party leaders.

Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.