NOT long ago, it was commonplace for faceless Democratic powerbrokers, meeting privately in smoke-filled rooms, to decide who would be the party's standard bearer in Presidential elections.
But this year, it's likely that a couple of hundred as-yet uncommitted 'superdelegates' will play the role of kingmakers by publicly declaring their support for either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton within the next few weeks.
Debra Kozikowski (53), a Chicopee, Massachusetts resident who is vice-chair of the state's Democratic Party, is one superdelegate who'll probably show her cards right after South Dakota and Montana hold the last primaries in early June.
"June 3 is the end of this process. Every (Democratic) voter in the country will then have had an opportunity to vote," said Kozikowski, during a Belfast Telegraph interview. "There is no reason for a superdelegate not to weigh-in on June 4."
Of course, that's not the endgame Clinton wants. Currently trailing Obama in pledged delegates, committed superdelegates and the popular vote, she wants undeclared superdelegates to take their time and weigh all factors before declaring their allegiance.
She argues that her consistent winning of the working-class white vote, coupled with her victories in swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas, means she has the best chance to beat presumptive Republican John McCain. Clinton claims her landslide May 13 win in West Virginia underscored that.
"West Virginia is a key swing state? Since what year?" scoffed Kozikowski, referring to the 1960s race between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon, when the heavily Protestant state helped elect America's only Catholic President.
Kozikowski agreed that Clinton had connected with blue collar voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania. However, she doesn't think that means that Obama won't do the same — or that working-class whites will refuse to back a black — in November's general election.
Kozikowski said that Republicans tried to exploit racial biases during a special congressional election in Mississippi on May 13 that saw white Democrat candidate Travis Childers steal a Republican seat for the first time in 13 years.
The Republican National Committee sponsored these ads that showed Barack Obama's face all over the place — anything they could perceive as being something that would inflame white southern voters. And it didn't work!"
Kozikowski also doesn't believe that the controversy triggered by the anti-white establishment statements of his former pastor, the Rev Jeremiah Wright, has damaged Obama.
"He's got some controversy attached to his candidacy. Who doesn't?" she said.
"Frankly, I think it's better to get it out of the way early, so it's old news."
Clinton also insists that delegates from Florida and Michigan — who lost their convention delegate privileges when they ignored party orders and moved forward their primaries — must be counted before a nominee can be crowned. She won both unauthorised primaries convincingly.
Kozikowski isn't bowled over by Clinton's argument.
"One of my reasons for remaining undeclared is my commitment to the process, and that every voter's vote should be counted," she said.
"The 75-year-old woman who went to vote in that primary, that has been determined to be a rule breaker, doesn't know about the Democratic National Committee, doesn't know about technicalities.
"All voters like her know is that they went to the polls and voted and now they're being told their vote won't count."
Kozikowski thinks the DNC will find a way to count Florida's votes later this month, but added, "there's no way mathematically that this puts Senator Clinton in any really stronger position than she is today."
She believes Michigan is different because, unlike Clinton, Obama and other candidates took their names off the ballot when the primary was deemed illegitimate.
"You don't turn around and penalise them for following the rules," Kozikowski insisted.
Still, like Florida, she thinks a way will be found to seat the state's delegates at August's Democratic convention.
At the end of the day, Kozikowski said, by June 3 all issues Clinton has raised will have been scrutinized and basically settled.
Therefore, she added, after South Dakota and Montana vote, all uncommitted superdelegates should "take a look at the end results on June 3, sleep on it, wake up the next morning, and make a decision."