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Superdelegates' key role in San Francisco

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One Democrat privately concedes that ''super'' was not really the best choice for a name. But when the party's leaders decided to strengthen the hand of professional politicians at the Democratic National Convention, they designated a select group of 568 members of Congress, governors, local officeholders, and party officials as ''superdelegates.'' These experienced Democrats, freed from direc-tives of primary voters, are supposed to provide a steady hand and the wisdom gained from past failures.

That theory faces a stiff test next week when Democrats head for San Francisco to nominate their candidate for president, with critics charging that the party establishment has grabbed too much power.

Ever since George McGovern and his youthful antiwar supporters snatched the Democratic 1972 convention away from party regulars, the pros have been struggling to make a comeback. Now they have finally succeeded.

Elected officials will be far more visible at San Francisco's Moscone Center next week than at recent Democratic conventions. Twenty-five US senators, 164 members of the House, and 25 governors, and more than 100 mayors will be among the superdelegates.

In fact, going to the Democratic convention is so much in style for Democratic officeholders that nearly 240 members of Congress are expected, including many who are not official delegates. By contrast, only 37 House members and eight senators turned up as delegates at the 1980 convention. Party officials are predictably pleased.

The presence of ''more political heavyweights might change the tone of this convention,'' says Democratic National Committee spokesman Eugene Russell. ''If you don't involve the captains and the colonels . . . , you have all foot soldiers. You may be (damaging) yourself.''

''It's good for the party, and it's good for us,'' says superdelegate and US Rep. Tony Coelho of California, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. ''You have a bunch of people there who understand the ripple of decisions. . . . A lot of people in the grass roots understand the short term. (But) they don't worry about the long term because that's not their bag.''

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