Obama wins elites but slips in the polls Party lead­ers, su­perdel­e­gates line up

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Christina Bellantoni

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The Demo­cratic es­tab­lish­ment is steadily mov­ing to­ward en­sur­ing Sen. Barack Obama’s nom­i­na­tion for pres­i­dent even as more of the party’s vot­ers view him as a dam­aged can­di­date.

Mr. Obama is fewer than 300 del­e­gates from the nom­i­na­tion, and inches closer with each day and each su­perdel­e­gate en­dorse­ment, but he is los­ing ground in na­tional polls and in the fi­nal con­test states in the wake of neg­a­tive cam­paign­ing, big-state losses and sev­eral dust-ups in­volv­ing his for­mer pas­tor.

Poll af­ter poll shows that the Demo­cratic front-run­ner’s im­age has been sul­lied and that many De- mocrats who back his ri­val, Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton of New York, say they won’t back Mr. Obama if he is the party choice.

But party lead­ers such as for­mer Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee Chair­man Joe Andrew are flock­ing to Mr. Obama’s side, urg­ing oth­ers to do the same and close the del­e­gate gap so Democrats can unify in time for the fall.

“I have been in­spired,” Mr. Andrew said in a May 1 note to the su­perdel­e­gates — elected of­fi­cials and party ac­tivists whose en­dorse­ments ul­ti­mately will de­cide the nom­i­nee.

Mr. Andrew, who was named to the DNC post in 1999 un­der Pres­i­dent Clin­ton, said Mr. Obama’s han­dling of the Rev. Jeremiah A.

Wright Jr.’s anti-Amer­i­can ser­mons helped seal the deal to get him to switch sides from Mrs. Clin­ton to Mr. Obama. He called on vot­ers in his home state of In­di­ana and on su­perdel­e­gates to “heal the rift in our party and unite be­hind” Mr. Obama.

“We risk let­ting this mo­ment slip through our fin­gers. We risk ced­ing the field to the Repub­li­cans and al­low­ing the morally bank­rupt Bush agenda to con­tinue un­abated if we do not unite be­hind a sin­gle can­di­date,” he said.

“Should this race con­tinue af­ter In­di­ana and North Carolina, it will in­evitably be­come more neg­a­tive,” he said, also blast­ing Mrs. Clin­ton and her hus­band for us­ing “old” cam­paign tac­tics.

Mrs. Clin­ton — trail­ing the Illi­nois sen­a­tor in del­e­gates but buoyed by a Penn­syl­va­nia win April 22 — is now beat­ing pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Sen. John McCain in more polls and is gain­ing on Mr. Obama in the next con­tests.

Mr. Obama’s once-solid edge in North Carolina has dropped to sin­gle dig­its, and the two can­di­dates are criss­cross­ing In­di­ana to fight for ev­ery vote in what’s ex­pected to be a close con­test. Both states vote May 6.

The Clin­ton cam­paign said she is emerg­ing as the bet­ter choice de­spite his lead in states won be­cause Mr. Obama is los­ing sup­port among in­de­pen­dents.

“A spate of new pub­lic polls out this week con­firms what we have been ar­gu­ing for some time: Hil­lary Clin­ton is the strong­est can­di­date to beat John McCain in Novem­ber,” Clin­ton ad­viser Harold Ickes wrote in a cam­paign memo May 1.

Among the polls that have cheered Team Clin­ton is the Ras- mussen daily track­ing poll show­ing Mrs. Clin­ton beat­ing Mr. Obama na­tion­ally 46 per­cent to 44 per­cent, a swing of 10 points since Mr. Wright started talk­ing to the press.

The Clin­ton cam­paign also cited new Qun­nip­iac polls show­ing that Mrs. Clin­ton would beat Mr. McCain in Florida, Ohio and Penn­syl­va­nia, while Mr. Obama would nar­rowly lose in Florida and Ohio.

Mr. Ickes cited a new CBS/New York Times poll show­ing the gap be­tween Mr. Obama’s fa­vor­able and un­fa­vor­able rat­ings had wors­ened in the past month. At the start of April, Mr. Obama was viewed fa­vor­ably by 62 per­cent and un­fa­vor­ably by 14 per­cent — a 48-point ad­van­tage. The latest poll showed just a 37-point gap be­tween the two rat­ings — 57 per­cent and 20 per­cent.

The Fox and NBC/Wall Street Jour­nal polls show a sim­i­lar change in his fa­vor­a­bil­ity rat­ings.

Obama spokesman Bill Bur­ton said the ri­val cam­paign was cherry-pick­ing polls and ig­nor­ing sev­eral that show Mr. Obama up.

“At best, the polling is in­con­clu­sive, but in re­al­ity, our po­si­tion of strength re­mains.”

Clin­ton strate­gist Ge­off Garin cited “real move­ment” in polls and “a real change in the dy­namic here” over the past two weeks.

Mr. Obama is “los­ing stock” with in­de­pen­dent vot­ers, and Mrs. Clin­ton is seen as the can­di­date “con­sis­tently strong­est” against Mr. McCain, Mr. Garin said.

Vot­ers in this cy­cle have seen Mrs. Clin­ton “with her back up against the wall on the verge of elim­i­na­tion,” said Clin­ton spokesman Howard Wolf­son. “They have seen her tested un­der fire.”

Mr. Obama has held a lead among North Carolina Democrats since he won the Iowa cau­cus in early Jan­uary and is fa­vored there in part be­cause of the high pop­u­la­tion of black vot­ers. But in re­cent weeks, while Mrs. Clin­ton and her hus­band have cam­paigned in the state, his lead has dropped. In April, his lead in polls reached a high of 25 and is now at an av­er­age of seven points, ac­cord­ing to a RealClearPol­i­tics tally.

In In­di­ana, Mrs. Clin­ton has an av­er­age lead of 4.8 per­cent­age points and has been gain­ing on Mr. Obama in re­cent polls.

The past few weeks have been a se­ries of highs and lows, a roller coaster that Mr. Obama says helps keep him grounded. But that is hard to do when Mr. Wright’s fiery ser­mons fol­low him on the cam­paign trail.

For­mer Obama sup­porter Larry Em­mons of Lafayette, Ind., said he changed his mind last week af­ter ob­serv­ing Mr. Wright’s ac­tions. Mr. Obama’s “be­ing in that church for 20 years has re­ally up­set me and my friends. He’s been in­doc­tri­nated into prob­a­bly some bad stuff,” he said.

Joe Cass, a laid-off truck driver from South Bend, Ind., said Mr. Obama is get­ting “shot down” by Mr. Wright, who gave anti-Amer­i­can ser­mons and now de­nounces Mr. Obama as just a politi­cian.

“This stuff with his preacher messed him up,” the Demo­crat said.

“He needs to get out and shake hands to re­pair the dam­age [. . .] if he wants the white vote back he’s got to get out there and min­gle,” said Mr. Cass, who plans to vote for Mrs. Clin­ton on May 6 but said he might be per­suaded to do oth­er­wise if Mr. Obama were to greet ev­ery­day vot­ers in­stead of hold­ing cam­paign-planned events.

Mrs. Clin­ton, who does just as many cam­paign ral­lies and planned fo­rums, also rou­tinely says be­ing pres­i­dent is about more than “just speeches.”

Mr. Obama seems aware of such crit­i­cism.

“What I want to do is spend more time lis­ten­ing than talk­ing,” he said when open­ing up a town­hall fo­rum with about 100 vot­ers in a dairy beef build­ing at the fairgrounds here May 1. He said it is great to get big crowds — 12,000 in Bloom­ing­ton on April 30 — but he wants to do more small events.

“You don’t re­ally learn much when you’re lis­ten­ing to your­self talk, but you do learn about when you’re lis­ten­ing to the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” he said.

On the stump on May 1, Mr. Obama reached out to rural vot­ers and el­derly vot­ers at an as­sisted liv­ing fa­cil­ity. He stressed his grand­par­ents’ “very mod­est” work­ing-class roots and his mother’s bat­tle with can­cer and dif­fi­cul­ties with health in­sur­ance.

His grand­mother worked on the bomber as­sem­bly line while his grand­fa­ther fought in World War II and later ben­e­fited from the GI Bill.

“If we in­vest in our peo­ple, then ev­ery­body pros­pers,” he said, adding his de­sire to be pres­i­dent “all traces back to the val­ues that my grand­par­ents passed on to me.”

Mr. Obama also promised if elected he would reach out to Repub­li­cans to get things done. He said Pres­i­dent Bush failed to talk about work­ing to­gether even though he lost the pop­u­lar vote in 2000.

“Even though he just barely got in there, [his at­ti­tude] was ‘my way or the high­way,’ ” Mr. Obama charged.

Getty Images

‘In­spired’: A for­mer na­tional party chair­man has urged Democrats to back Sen. Barack Obama.

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