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Candidates, Let the Wooing Begin

By Jeff Jones
Journal Politics Writer
    Memo to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama:
    If either of you hasn't called Albuquerque resident and brand-new Democratic superdelegate Laurie Weahkee yet, you may want to get to the phone.
    The New Mexico Democratic Party's central committee, during a contentious meeting in Albuquerque on Saturday, elected the 42-year-old Cochiti and Zuni Pueblo member as the state's 12th and final superdelegate to this summer's presidential nominating convention in Denver.
    Weahkee, who is also half Navajo, said she has yet to commit to either candidate, adding that Native American issues, including sovereignty and health care, are her top concerns.
    "My first loyalty is really to the Native American agenda. I'm really going to be listening to both candidates to find out what their positions are ... how hard they're willing to go to bat for the Native American people," Weahkee said after winning a 71-59 vote over Charlotte Little of Taos and San Felipe pueblos at the meeting in Northeast Albuquerque.
    Weahkee's election followed an in-party spat about the rules for selecting the delegate:
    A group of Clinton backers argued that nominations for the so-called "unpledged, add-on" superdelegate post could come from the 200-plus central committee members at the meeting, the majority of whom were allied with Clinton.
    But state party Chairman Brian Colón said national party rules specified that only he could nominate the candidates. So the voting was limited to the two Native American women he had selected with the aim of adding diversity to the state's delegate list.
    Rumors flew through some circles at the meeting that both women were Obama backers. Colón said both were uncommitted, adding that others suspected him of stacking the deck for Clinton.
    "I felt it was critical we had Native Americans in our delegation," Colón said, adding that selecting an uncommitted delegate keeps New Mexico "relevant and part of the conversation" among the party's presidential candidates.
    Obama leads in the number of pledged delegates for the presidential nomination and will almost certainly keep that lead through the remaining state primaries.
    That could leave the nearly 800 superdelegates nationwide— those who aren't pledged to either candidate and can vote as they wish at the convention— as the ultimate decision-makers. Clinton and Obama are working overtime to woo as many superdelegates as they can.
    Santa Fe attorney John Pound, co-chair of the state Obama campaign, said Weahkee is the new "belle of the ball" for both candidates.
    "We will proudly greet her at her hotel room in Denver each morning with a box of chocolate-covered cherries and a bouquet of flowers," he joked.
    In other action Saturday, the central committee approved the state party's 2008 platform, which again calls for impeachment proceedings against President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
    The party approved a similar resolution in 2006, though no upper-level elected officials in New Mexico have been outspoken proponents of actually seeking such proceedings.
    "My focus between now and November is making sure we put Democrats in every level of government— from the Legislature to the White House," Colón said.
    New Mexico has 26 pledged delegates and 12 unpledged superdelegates to the Democratic convention. Clinton, who narrowly won the state's Super Tuesday caucus in February, earned 14 of the pledged delegates as a result of that vote, while Obama won 12.
    The superdelegates include party heavyweights such as Gov. Bill Richardson, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez, Colón and others.
    Denish, Chávez and four other superdelegates are backing Clinton, while Richardson is one of two state superdelegates backing Obama. The uncommitted superdelegates are Colón, Weahkee, Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Rep. Tom Udall.