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Backroom Primary: Profile of a Calif. Superdelegate

Listen to superdelegates across the country describe which candidate they are supporting — or why they are uncommitted.
Listen to superdelegates across the country describe which candidate they are supporting — or why they are uncommitted.
California superdelegate Robert Rankin in a photo originally published in the newsletter, the California DNC Press Democrat.
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California superdelegate Robert Rankin in a photo originally published in the newsletter, the California DNC Press Democrat.

Democratic superdelegates are likely to determine their party's presidential nominee. But not every superdelegate is a party V.I.P.

Robert "Big Red" Rankin is a retired chemical worker and union leader from the blue-collar city of Carson, south of Los Angeles, who recently attended the state party convention in San Jose. He is one of 300 superdelegates nationwide who remain undecided.

This indecision is relatively new to Rankin. He supported John Edwards until the former North Carolina senator dropped out of the race.

"Right from the get-go, a lot of things that John Edwards talked about were working family issues: that we need to not only protect but bring back American jobs," Rankin said.

Rankin worked at a Honeywell chemical plant for 41 years, where he became active in the union — which, in turn, led him to politics.

"Something struck me that one of the things that was keeping us from not getting what we needed to get in negotiations with the company was the way the laws were written," he said.

So Rankin learned to work on legislation and lobby lawmakers, and now he is a member of the Democratic National Committee. He has been having a tough time choosing between the two remaining candidates. He has spoken to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama on the phone and likes him.

"I like the fact that Barack Obama has energized people who had kind of given up on the system before because they felt like, 'Forget about it. No one's going to take care of us.' And that's good because we need, we need that," he said.

But Rankin also likes New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, saying she has a wealth of experience.

"Being close to the president had to have given her some insight," he says.

Some people have questioned the value of Clinton's experience as first lady. Rankin is not one of them — particularly since he has been married for 47 years and considers that a blessing.

"[My wife] offers me advice, and she should," Rankin said. "Not that Mrs. Clinton was Mrs. President, but I'm sure President Clinton listened to her."

Rankin is listening to a lot of advice lately from many different people and weighing competing interests, including labor issues. He is also paying attention to how his state and congressional district voted.

For now, he remains undecided and thinks the superdelegates should let the Democratic race run its course.

Former President Bill Clinton made the same argument to California's undecided superdelegates on Sunday, but Rankin did not stick around to hear it.

Instead, he decided to fly home to be with his wife.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."