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Portrait of a Utah 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.
Utah superdelegate Helen Langan is a Clinton supporter.
Utah superdelegate Helen Langan is a Clinton supporter.

Utah superdelegate Helen Langan is under super pressure as she struggles with her Democratic convention vote.

"I've been flooded with e-mails, phone calls and people stopping me when I'm out and about," Langan says. She's even getting political messages on her My Space page, which is actually devoted to her upcoming wedding.

Langan is a Utah Democratic state committeewoman and a spokeswoman for Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker. She's never been to a party nominating convention, but she has long experience with the Clintons. The 31-year-old Langan worked in the White House press office during the Clinton administration.

So, it was no surprise in October when she endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. But there was more to Langan's choice than her White House work.

"About a week before I declared my endorsement, I was having a conversation with my 7-year-old niece," Langan explains. "She said, 'Aunt Helen, girls can't be president, can they?'"

Langan asserted that even though there has never been a woman president, "a fine woman was running for President" now.

"That moved me," Langan says. "And it sort of struck me how historic and how meaningful it would be if we could finally see a woman in the White House."

But since that October endorsement for Clinton, Utah Democrats spoke. They overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama in the state's Super Tuesday primary Feb. 5. That has Langan thinking twice about how she might vote at the Democratic National Convention Aug. 25-28. And it has Obama and Clinton supporters fighting for her attention.

"Some of these superdelegates aren't even going with the majority of the people in their area," complained an unidentified Obama supporter, who left a long message on Langan's voicemail. "I think that's a very selfish thing for a superdelegate."

For Langan, politics is also personal. She hears from family and friends, as well, and their thinking seems to affect her most.

Take the 32-year-old childhood friend who 'd never voted but who registered to vote for the first time before the Utah primary in February. "And I was sort of shocked and I (asked), 'Why?' " Langan recalls. "She said, 'Because I want to vote for Barack Obama.' And that type of thing moves me almost more than anything else."

The key word there is "almost." Langan's mother also weighed in. She's a "proud independent" who voted for President Bush but is an adamant Clinton supporter now.

"And so I kind of look at those two women, who are as close to me as anyone, with these different perspectives and I really kind of go back and forth about it. And I literally today couldn't tell you definitively who I'm going to vote for ... at the convention"

The personal pressure doesn't stop there. Langan's husband-to-be is an Obama supporter, and he responds to the people who lobby for Obama on the couple's My Space page. He tells them, " 'Don't worry, man. I'm working on her,' " Langan notes with a laugh.

Part of the dilemma is political. Utah is sometimes considered the nation's most Republican state. There are so few Democrats in the Utah Senate that the Senate Democratic Caucus could meet in a minivan. The new Democrats the candidates attract could help elect Democrats in state and local races in the November election.

Langan's childhood friend is emblematic of new voters energized by Obama. Her mother shows that some independent women who've voted Republican will turn to Clinton.

Langan says she can make good cases for both Clinton and Obama, which doesn't make her choice any easier. She believes both would make good presidents.

For the time being, she's staying committed to Clinton. She sees no point in switching to "uncommitted" because she doesn't want to make it appear that suggest she thinks there's something wrong with the New York senator. But she clearly has an open mind.

So, how will superdelegate Helen Langan decide? She'll see who the rest of the country chooses.

"I'm going to wait to sort it out until all the states have had their primaries, because, by then, it's no longer speculation. We'll know how the votes shook out."

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Howard Berkes
Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.