WASHINGTON — Ah, to be a superdelegate! With Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton locked in a contest that will not give either of them enough delegates won through primaries and caucuses to clinch the nomination before the party convenes in Denver this summer, superdelegates are the targets of supercharged appeals. You want dinner? A personal tête-à-tête with the possible Next President of the United States? Or do you just want to avoid a primary in your usually safe House district?

Actually, here is what superdelegates want: a winner in November. So they have questions, many questions, to pose in sizing up which candidate demonstrates the best possibility of beating Republican John McCain in the fall. In those urgent conversations that may lead to the finale in that smoke-free back room, here are some they would do well to ask.

For Obama:

1. How will the Republican attack machine go after you, and how will you respond? Hint: It has been reported by The Politico that in 1995 you met with William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, two veterans of the violent Weather Underground movement of the 1960s and ’70s, to seek their political support as you began running for a seat in the Illinois Senate. You’ve also served on a foundation board with Ayers. Neither Ayers nor Dohrn have renounced their violent pasts. And Ayers, in an interview with The New York Times — published on Sept. 11, 2001 — said “I don’t regret setting bombs” and “I feel we didn’t do enough.” How do you plan to explain your relationship with Ayers and Dorhn to American voters?

2. How do you intend to take on McCain on national security? How will you respond to claims that the U.S. military surge in Iraq has worked and that a withdrawal amounts to surrender?

3. Throughout the nominating contests, you have had difficulty attracting the support of white, working-class voters, particularly the elderly, who represent a significant part of the Democratic Party’s base. Their votes are crucial to winning such key general election states as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Do you plan to speak more directly to these voters’ concerns, or do you intend to put together a different coalition and win the White House without their solid support?

4. Your historic candidacy has inspired and energized African-American voters like no other, and there are great expectations that you will be the Democratic nominee. One of your supporters, former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder, suggested in a television interview that if you do not secure the nomination, the Denver convention will be in “chaos.” He recalled the bitter 1968 Democratic convention, and said 2008 could turn out worse. What steps do you plan to ensure that your supporters, if disappointed in the outcome, do not throw the convention into chaos or refuse to support the eventual nominee?

For Clinton:

1. The New York Times has reported that your husband, former President Bill Clinton, traveled to Kazakhstan with a Canadian mining financier who soon afterward secured a major energy contract and then donated millions to your husband’s charitable foundation. While in Kazakhstan, Bill Clinton praised its autocratic and corrupt government, despite well-documented U.S. concerns about its democracy and human rights record — concerns you yourself have voiced publicly. If you become the nominee, will the former president continue such activities? When you release your tax returns next month, will they reveal significant business dealings abroad? If so, how do you intend to explain them?

2. How do you intend to take on McCain on national security? How will you respond to Republican claims that the military surge in Iraq has worked, and that a withdrawal amounts to surrender?

3. This campaign has opened a wide and bitter divide between you and African-American voters, who consider some of your campaign tactics racist and who are inspired by the prospect of electing the first African-American president. Will you assure African-American voters that you will not “steal” the nomination from Obama? If you become the Democratic nominee, how will you repair the breach?

4. Your campaign has been racked by internal dissension and public feuds — and rapidly spent approximately $100 million in just the earliest primaries. Given your stewardship of the campaign, how will you convince voters that you can be trusted with their tax money and with the management of the American government?

For Obama and Clinton: If you have any idea about how to resolve the party’s miserable dilemma, put on a unifying convention and win the White House despite all this, would you please let us know what it is?

Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at)washpost.com.

© 2008, Washington Post Writers Group

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