With polls showing softening support for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton on Friday pursued her relentless quest for a comeback ahead of next week’s crunch White House nominating showdowns.
Obama, reeling from days of uproar over his fiery former pastor, finally got a boost, as a high-profile former Democratic party chief ditched Clinton and joined his pace-setting campaign.
Ahead of crucial primaries in Indiana and North Carolina on Tuesday, former Democratic Party chief Joe Andrew on Thursday defected from Clinton to Obama, and called on his party to unite to fight Republican John McCain.
”Let us come together right now behind an inspiring leader who not only has the audacity to challenge the old divisive politics, but the audacity to make us all hope for a better America,” Andrew wrote in a letter.
His move was ominous for Clinton, as Andrew is also a superdelegate, one of the nearly 800 party officials who will decide the nomination, given that neither Democrat can now reach the 2 025 elected delegates to win outright.
Obama, still a strong favourite for the Democratic White House nomination, has endured a tough month, losing to Clinton in Pennsylvania last week and embroiled in a controversy over the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
Even so, his campaign has announced a string of superdelegate endorsements, narrowing Clinton’s long-held lead in this area to 17, according to the latest tally by independent political website RealClearPolitics.
He enjoys an essentially insurmountable advantage among elected delegates, 1737 to 1598, with just nine contests remaining in the primary season.
The remote US territory of Guam holds its Democratic caucus on Saturday with four pledged delegates at stake. Five Democratic superdelegates also hail from the north Pacific island, where Obama is seen as having an edge.
But Clinton’s camp pounced on new polls on Thursday, which appeared to give her fresh ammunition to tell party leaders that she is a better bet to beat Republican candidate John McCain in November.
Quinnipiac University data showed her beating McCain 49% to 41% in Florida, and 48% to 38% in mid-western Ohio. She also topped McCain by 51% to 37% in Pennsylvania.
Obama, by contrast, trailed McCain 44% to 43% in Florida, and by single point in Ohio, though did come out better than McCain, 47% to 38% in Pennsylvania.
”If the superdelegates are looking at electability, these results could be a shot in the arm for Senator Clinton,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
”She clearly is running much better against Senator McCain than is Senator Obama, at least for now,” Brown said.
Clinton planned five events on Friday in a blitz across North Carolina. Obama was also in the state, where he hopes his core coalition of African-Americans, students and affluent white voters will carry him to victory.
Obama and his wife earlier tried yet again to quell the furore over incendiary sermons by his former pastor.
”Voters are tired of this,” Michelle Obama said on NBC. ”They don’t want to hear about this division. They want to know, what are we going to do to move beyond these issues.”
Wright once claimed Aids was a racist government plot and suggested after the September 11 attacks in 2001 that black citizens sing ”God Damn America” to protest their treatment by whites. — AFP