When Lawrence University senior Leila Sahar was invited to serve on the Democratic Credentials Committee for the 2008 Democratic National Convention, she knew it was a big honor. What she did not know was that she might end up having a significant say in who gets the Democrats' nomination for the presidency when the party comes together in Denver, Colo. late in August.
Sahar is one of the 25 men and women from across the nation selected personally by Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean to be the first members of the credentials committee.
The committee -- which will also include 161 members to be chosen by state primaries and caucuses -- is charged with handling any challenges to the seating of delegates. It is a task that is often overlooked by the media, but could be of more consequence than usual this year.
With Hillary Clinton's candidacy all but hanging on the seating of currently disqualified delegates from Florida and Michigan, the decision made by the credentials committee regarding these two states could potentially hand the nomination to Clinton or to rival Barack Obama.
Before reporting to the convention August 25-28, committee members will attend July training sessions to prepare them for this heavy work.
To get a sense of just how prestigious Sahar's appointment is, one need simply examine who else makes up the committee -- the 22-year-old is the youngest person in the "Dean 25," and her colleagues include a former lieutenant governor, the mayor of Baltimore, Dean's former chief of staff, a couple of state congressmen and individuals high in the business world.
After two summers of interning in the political department of the DNC and serving as assistant director of voter rights under the Dean chairmanship, Sahar received her nomination to the credentials committee this winter.
"I got the call from Dean's secretary in early January, right after I got back to school," she said. "I felt honored to be among the people who Chairman Dean thought of for this work."
Due to increased press coverage for the committee, Sahar's position has recently attracted attention and curiosity.
"A lot of people ask me who I'm going to support," said Sahar. "But it's really not supposed to be about me going in there and voting for someone. It's supposed to be about rules, and what's most fair, and what's best for the party."
Dean recently told the candidates he expected one of them to concede the race after all of the primaries are finished in June. Sahar said she thought that there is a good chance this might happen, and if it does, the delegate controversy will become insignificant.
However, if neither Clinton nor Obama is prepared to quit, then, as Sahar speculated, "We'll be having a very different conversation in July."