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Lady of the House

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Even before superdelegates had become a buzzword, Wasserman Schultz had locked in her vote for Clinton, whom she considers a role model. "Her generation, the effort and strides they have made, that's what made it possible for me to run for the state Legislature when I was 25 years old," Wasserman Schultz stresses. "The path they blazed made my success possible."

In a political season that has seen some of Clinton's staunchest allies defect to her glamorous rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, Wasserman Schultz has emerged not just as an ally but as an enforcer. Back in March, when an Obama adviser, Samantha Power, referred to Clinton as a "monster," it was Wasserman Schultz who fired back, citing the remark as evidence that the Obama campaign's talk of hope smacked of hypocrisy. Soon after, Power stepped down.

Prominent Democrats, including South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, who as House majority whip works with Wasserman Schultz, have made public pleas for Clinton to tone down her attacks on Obama lest she cause a rift in the party coalition that cannot be fused in time for the general election.

An increasing number of superdelegates have thrown their support behind Obama citing not just the need for a unified party but their dismay at the negative tone of Clinton's campaign, which has tried to undermine support for Obama by suggesting he isn't prepared to assume the presidency and seizing on his associations with controversial figures such as his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Wasserman Schultz, on the other hand, has been unwavering in her support. "I don't think the tone of [Clinton's] campaign has been one way or the other," the congresswoman says. "She's been talking about issues that matter most to Americans: health care, Iraq, the economy."

Earlier this month, in the days leading up to the Indiana primary, Clinton's campaign touted a plan — originally championed by Republican nominee John McCain — calling for a suspension of the federal gas tax as a way of giving consumers a temporary break from fuel costs. Economists, politicians, and pundits were nearly unanimous in dismissing the plan as a pander. Wasserman Schultz went on cable news programs to defend Clinton. "I'm a minivan mom," she said on CNN's Larry King Live. "And the last time I filled up my minivan — the one I use to drive my kids around my district — it cost me $67. What Hillary's plan will do is put $70 potentially back into the pockets of people and make sure that they can put food on the table that week."

The following week, after the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, or NARAL, gave its endorsement to Obama, Wasserman Schultz made another appearance at the DNC headquarters. "We feel abandoned by this organization today," said the congresswoman, a leading proponent of women's reproductive rights. Later, she told an MSNBC reporter that NARAL made a "mistake beyond proportion."

But it is Wasserman Schultz's role in the wake of the Florida's primary-that-wasn't that has taken center stage in the past few weeks. Months ago, both Clinton and Obama accepted the DNC's ruling to strip Florida of its delegates, and both signed pledges vowing not to campaign in Florida. Of course, both sides would accuse the other of fudging on that pledge — Obama's national TV spots aired in Florida while Clinton made personal appearances at fundraisers.

In January, Clinton won the Florida primary with 50 percent of the vote to Obama's 33. She stood to gain some 36 pledged delegates and 300,000 votes. Counting those delegates and votes has become increasingly vital to Clinton's dimming hopes of persuading uncommitted superdelegates that she can catch Obama, whose victory in last week's Oregon primary gave him a seemingly insurmountable majority of pledged delegates heading into the August nominating convention.

Clinton spent an entire day in Florida last week, hoping to publicize her cause. Wasserman Schultz, meanwhile, provided some pointed media backup. "I think it's really disappointing that Barack Obama spoke to 15,000 Floridians today within the state and said absolutely nothing about whether he thinks Florida's delegation should be seated," she told Fox News. "In fact, he's never said from his mouth that Florida's delegation should be seated at the convention, and that's incredibly disappointing."

Clinton's last-ditch push to requalify the Florida results, and those from a similar primary in Michigan, has rankled party leaders, who had hoped to have a nominee months ago. Not only has Clinton pledged to stay in the race but she's stressed her appeal to white, rural, and working-class voters and voiced concerns about staking the party's presidential hopes on Obama, an African-American who has performed poorly among those voters.

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Thomas Francis

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