Superdelegates are Focus of Attention at California Democratic Convention

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The California Democratic Party held its convention in San Jose over the weekend and both Democratic presidential candidates sent surrogates to court the superdelegates in attendance. With two candidates still in the race, it could have been a contentious atmosphere. But KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde reports the mood in San Jose was like that old Beach Boys' song, "Don't Worry, Baby."

[Crowd chanting "Hillary, Hillary," transitions into "Obama, Obama"]

Kitty Felde: Clearly, California Democrats have a difference of opinion over who should represent the party at the top of the ticket. Congresswoman Diane Watson of Los Angeles has attended every state party convention for the past 30 years. She was an early Hillary Clinton supporter.

Diane Watson: A lot of pressure on me, because Barack Obama is one of ours, and they're saying "Well why are you going there?" I said, I'm going there because I feel Hillary Clinton can lay the bedrocks across which he can pass and bring all those young people who will be of age, as new leaders. She's the now, he's the future.

Felde: The future was in evidence all weekend, with hundreds of young people attending campaign boot camp seminars. For the first time, 10% of California's Democratic delegates at the national convention will be age 30 or younger. But although those young people made a lot of noise, the Democrats who got most of the attention at this convention were the 20 or so superdelegates who haven't yet decided whether to support Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Neither candidate was here in person, but each sent surrogates to court those superdelegates. For Obama, it was former State Controller Steve Westly.

Steve Westly: We've talked to a number of them, and I think the good news is that, of the ones that are still undecided, I think the great majority of them will come Senator Obama's way. He has the momentum, and it looks an awful lot like he will be the Democratic nominee. We think that's exciting, and I think a lot of the superdelegates are starting to come our direction.

Felde: But the Obama camp was outgunned in the star power department by the surrogate for Hillary Clinton; her husband, former President Bill Clinton, closed out the convention with a rousing speech Sunday morning.

Bill Clinton: And I know every time I give a speech for her, I get the feeling that, you know, half the people are looking at me cross-eyed. (crowd laughs) They're saying, "Oh, I better discount about 80% of what he says, 'cause he's got to say this, or he couldn't go home tonight. (crowd laughs) And I guess there's some truth to that. (crowd laughs) But what I want you to know is, knowing what I know, I would be here for her if we had never been married, because I think she's the best candidate I've supported in 40 years in the Democratic primary.

Felde: Before he spoke to the packed convention hall, Bill Clinton had a private conversation with California's superdelegates. Inola Henry, an undecided superdelegate from Los Angeles, says it was a very casual meeting, very conversational.

Inola Henry: I don't think he turned anybody in that group. If you walked in for Hillary, you remained that way. If you walked in uncommitted, as I am, you remained that way. So it wasn't really... and you know what? Because, I think he looked around and remembered many of those faces. I don't think he expected to turn anybody around.

Felde: On the whole, most of those at the convention say they are content to wait until all the other states have cast primary ballots before settling on a candidate for president. In the meantime, State Democratic Party Chair Art Torres says the personal infighting between the Clinton and Obama camps must stop. The candidates should focus on the issues now, or, warns Torres, Democrats could lose the election come November. And the state party boss had some advice for political reporters: enjoy the Democrats' uncertainty while you can.

Art Torres: Quite frankly, you all oughta be praying to the Virgin of Guadalupe and thanking her for this. Because as the media, you're encouraged and excited, because you can write about something, as opposed to "Oh, God, another speech by John Kerry."

Felde: For Torres, it really is like the Beach Boys song: "Don't worry, baby. Everything will turn out all right."