Feature

Obama gains, but Clinton battles on

Democratic front-runner Sen. Barack Obama got two major boosts over the past week, winning the coveted endorsement of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson just as both Michigan and Florida ruled out conducting revotes in the wake of their disputed primaries. S

What happened
Democratic front-runner Sen. Barack Obama got two major boosts over the past week, winning the coveted endorsement of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson just as both Michigan and Florida ruled out conducting revotes in the wake of their disputed primaries. Sen. Hillary Clinton had been pushing for the new primaries, after the two states’ earlier contests were invalidated because they were moved up to January in violation of party rules. Clinton was hoping new contests would bring her closer to Obama in pledged delegates and the popular vote. But with the states failing to find a way to fund and conduct a revote, she now must win two-thirds of the remaining delegates to catch Obama.

Gov. Richardson, who is the nation’s highest profile Latino politician and served in President Clinton’s Cabinet, threw his support behind Obama, saying it was “time for a new generation of American leadership.” Clinton advisor James Carville compared his defection to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, prompting Richardson to retort, “That’s typical of many of the people around Sen. Clinton. They have a sense of entitlement to the presidency.”

Despite the setbacks, Clinton showed every indication that she was fighting on. Clinton this week weighed in for the first time on the controversy over inflammatory sermons by Obama’s long-time pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. “Given all that we have heard and seen,” she said, “he would not have been my pastor.”

What the editorials said
It’s understandable why the Obama camp doesn’t want revotes in Michigan and Florida, said The Washington Post. But one need not be a Clintonite to see that it’s terribly unfair to “punish” Democratic voters because their leaders broke party rules. The party “is in a pickle of its own making,” and if getting out of it means coming up with the money to fund the revotes or extending some deadlines, so be it.

But isn’t it curious that Clinton’s insistence on “counting every vote” only goes so far? said the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Even if Michigan and Florida were still in play, her hopes rest entirely on the party’s superdelegates—party bigwigs who can vote however they please—reversing the choice of the elected delegates. Such a “massive disenfranchisement” would tear the party apart. That’s why party leaders need to pull Clinton aside and deliver the news: It’s time for her to quit.

What the columnists said

Bill Richardson delivered exactly that message, said John Dickerson in Slate.com. By endorsing Obama, Richardson in effect said “there is no story Clinton can tell to convince superdelegates to reverse the mathematical facts.” Clinton herself hasn’t accepted that reality, said David Brooks in The New York Times. Her own aides say she has a 10 percent chance of securing the nomination; it’s probably more like 5 percent. So “for the sake of that 5 percent,” Democrats may be facing three months of “character assassination” and divisiveness. Unless, of course, Clinton “surprises everyone with a display of self-sacrifice.”

Quitting would not necessarily be in the party’s best interest, said Jack Kelly in Realclearpolitics.com. Clinton keeps getting beaten up because of her superdelegate strategy, but she is exactly right that under the rules, “any choice they make is legitimate, because the DNC made them free agents.” Obama backers don’t like to hear this, but superdelegates can, and arguably should, vote for the candidate they believe would make the strongest nominee.

Thanks to the Rev. Wright, that may well be Clinton, said John Heilemann in New York. Obama’s poll numbers slipped after incendiary footage of his pastor first appeared. He regained ground with his speech on race last week, but for Republican strategists, Wright’s most “useful” comments weren’t the racial ones but rather his thundering “God damn America!” GOP operatives are already “licking their chops” as they prepare to question Obama’s own patriotism and try to turn him into “the new Mike Dukakis.”

What next?
Unless Obama scores a major upset in Pennsylvania on April 22, the May 6 primaries in Indiana and North Carolina “have the most potential to change the race,” said Dan Balz in The Washington Post. If Obama wins Indiana, “he could claim to have successfully cracked Clinton’s coalition of women and working-class white voters.” If Clinton wins an upset in North Carolina, she can claim “real momentum” and press her case with superdelegates. If the states split, though, the contest will likely continue into June or beyond.

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