Reported by Dotty Lynch and Beth Lester, of the CBS News Political Unit.
Heading into the Iowa caucuses on Monday, January 19, Howard Dean leads in the CBS News count of Democratic superdelegates -- the members of Congress and party officials who are automatic delegates to the national convention, and are not pledged to one candidate by virtue of a caucus or primary.
There are 801 superdelegates, about one-sixth of the 4,321 total delegates who will participate in this year's nominating convention in Boston in July.
CBS News and The New York Times conducted a telephone survey of superdelegates from Jan. 7 to Jan. 16.
Dean leads the pack with 137 superdelegate votes pledged to or leaning his way. Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri follows with 74 super D's, and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has 64.
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark commands the support of 40 superdelegate votes, Sen. John Edwards of Northj Carolina takes 28, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut rounds out the front-runners with 27.
Recent campaign dropout and Dean endorsee Carol Moseley-Braun had 1 delegate vote, the Rev. Al Sharpton has three, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has two.
Overall, interviews were conducted with delegates representing 636 votes. Of those, 378 superdelegates expressed a preference, 258 were undecided. A further 21 refused to be interviewed, and the remaining 62 could not be reached. In addition, 82 superdelegate votes have not yet been assigned to delegates and will be selected by state parties closer to the convention.
The delegates are not bound and can always change their minds. If their original choice does poorly or drops out they are free to pick another candidate. CBS News will be monitoring switches as the process moves along.
The superdelegate contingent is made up of the entire Democratic National Committee, all Democratic members of the Senate and House of Representatives, Governors of states and territories, the Mayor of Washington, D.C., and 21 "Distinguished Party Leaders" who include former presidents, vice presidents, and former chairmen of the national committee.
Despite Gephardt's years as the leader of the Democrats in the House, Howard Dean actually had the support of 35 members of Congress, two more than Gephardt with 33 members. Dean's big advantage, however, came from members of the Democratic National Committee and Governors; over a hundred told CBS News they support or lean toward Howard Dean compared to 39 who picked Dick Gephardt.
This year, the campaigns have been going after superdelegates with particular ferocity. Because of the shortened primary schedule, three quarters of the delegates will be selected by March 2, and the psychological advantaged to racking up a high delegate count is important.
If the nomination process is particularly contested, the delegate count becomes paramount, and the 801 superdelegates could play a very large role in determining the outcome, CBS News explains.
The CBS News Superdelegate Vote Count:
Note: Numbers include those who said they support or are leaning toward a candidate. While the survey was conducted jointly, CBS News and The New York Times each keep independent delegate counts.