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A Clinton Ally Tilts to Obama

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THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW - February 18, 2008
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Black Leader, a Clinton Ally, Tilts to Obama
By Jeff Zeleny and Patrick Healy
The New York Times

Milwaukee - Representative John Lewis, an elder statesman 
from the civil rights era and one of Senator Hillary Rodham 
Clinton's most prominent black supporters, said Thursday 
night that he planned to cast his vote as a superdelegate 
for Senator Barack Obama in hopes of preventing a fight 
at the Democratic convention. 

"In recent days, there is a sense of movement and a sense 
of spirit," said Mr. Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who endorsed 
Mrs. Clinton last fall. "Something is happening in America, 
and people are prepared and ready to make that great leap." 

Mr. Lewis, who carries great influence among other members 
of Congress, disclosed his decision in an interview in 
which he said that as a superdelegate he could "never, 
ever do anything to reverse the action" of the voters of 
his district, who overwhelmingly supported Mr. Obama. 

"I've been very impressed with the campaign of Senator 
Obama," Mr. Lewis said. "He's getting better and better 
every single day." 

His comments came as fresh signs emerged that Mrs. 
Clinton's support was beginning to erode from some other 
African-American lawmakers who also serve as super-
delegates. Representative David Scott of Georgia, who 
was among the first to defect, said he, too, would not 
go against the will of voters in his district. 

The developments came on a day in which Mrs. Clinton set 
out anew to prove that the fight for the Democratic 
nomination was far from over. Campaigning in Ohio, she 
pursued a new strategy of biting attack lines against 
Mr. Obama, while adopting a newly populist tone as she 
courted blue-collar voters. 

Mrs. Clinton also intensified her efforts in Wisconsin, 
which holds its primary on Tuesday and where she and Mr. 
Obama now have the first dueling negative television 
advertisements of the campaign. 

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In the ads, Mrs. Clinton taunted Mr. Obama for refusing to 
debate her in Wisconsin. And she and former President Bill 
Clinton prepared for a new fund-raising blitz to try to 
counter Mr. Obama's edge of several million dollars in 
campaign cash. 

Yet even as the Democratic rivals looked ahead to the 
primaries in Wisconsin, Ohio and Texas, Mr. Lewis said he 
and other prominent African-American party leaders had 
been moved by Mr. Obama's recent victories and his ability 
to transcend racial and geographic lines. 

Though Mr. Lewis had praise for Mrs. Clinton and for her 
historic candidacy, he said he could decide within days 
whether to formally endorse Mr. Obama. 

He also said he and other lawmakers would meet in the 
coming days to decide how they intended to weigh in on 
the nominating fight. If neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. 
Obama receive enough pledged delegates to win the 
nomination, superdelegates like Mr. Lewis may play the 
deciding role in who wins. 

"If I can be used as a mediator, a negotiator or a peace-
maker, I'd be happy to step in," Mr. Lewis said, adding 
that he intends to speak to both candidates in hopes of 
ending the race amicably in the next month. "I don't want 
to see Mrs. Clinton damaged or Mr. Obama damaged." 

Jay Carson, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, said Thursday: 
"Congressman Lewis is a true American hero, and we have 
the utmost respect for him and understand the great 
pressure he faced. And Senator Clinton enjoys incredibly 
strong support from superdelegates around the country 
from all regions and races." 

The comments by Mr. Lewis underscored a growing sentiment 
among some of the party's black leaders that they should 
not stand in the way of Mr. Obama's historic quest for 
the nomination and should not go against the will of their 
constituents. As superdelegates, they may have the final 
say, which is something Mr. Lewis said he feared would 
weaken Democrats and raise Republicans' chances of winning 
the White House. 

Still, the Democratic nominating fight clearly has many 
turns ahead. On Thursday, Mrs. Clinton unleashed the most 
ambitious mobilization of her forces in weeks, reflecting 
the intense pressure she is under from Mr. Obama, the 
political necessity for her of towering performances in 
the delegate-rich primaries in Ohio and Texas on March 4, 
and her fresh hope of an upset victory in Wisconsin. 

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Specifically, Mrs. Clinton is hoping to gain political 
mileage by turning one of Mr. Obama's attributes, his 
oratory, against him. She is warning voters about 
politicians who give great speeches and make big promises 
but ultimately do not deliver on them. 

"Speeches don't put food on the table," Mrs. Clinton said 
at a General Motors plant in Warren, Ohio, on Thursday 
morning. "Speeches don't fill up your tank, or fill your 
prescription, or do anything about that stack of bills 
that keeps you up at night." 

"My opponent gives speeches," she added. "I offer 
solutions." 

Mrs. Clinton has been also criticizing Mr. Obama with 
populist language, saying she would "take on" insurers 
and credit card companies and "go after" drug companies. 
She portrayed Mr. Obama as untested on the battlefield 
against special interests. 

If there was a sign of the imbalance in momentum between 
Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama on Thursday, it could be gleaned 
from Mr. Obama's travel itinerary. He took a respite from 
the campaign trail, aides said, so he could spend 
Valentine's Day with his family in Chicago before return-
ing to Wisconsin on Friday. 

Clinton advisers said Thursday that it was unlikely they 
would broadcast "horrible nasty negative ads," in the 
words of one adviser, and that they were wary of going 
too negative against Mr. Obama, given what the Clintons 
say is the news media's tendency to coddle and protect 
Mr. Obama and portray the Clintons as an attack machine. 

At the same time, Clinton advisers say that the stakes 
are so high - in Ohio and Texas in particular - that 
Mrs. Clinton cannot afford to let Mr. Obama gain momentum. 
In Wisconsin, for instance, Mrs. Clinton is hoping to 
stave off a blowout - and perhaps even pull off a surprise 
- by blasting Mr. Obama for refusing to debate her there. 

"The last time we debated was in California, and I 
convincingly won California, which may be why Senator 
Obama doesn't want to have a debate in Wisconsin," Mrs. 
Clinton said in a telephone conference call with reporters. 

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Mr. Carson, her spokesman, said she would keep the debate 
issue alive until Tuesday. 

"A refusal to debate one's primary opponent is always seen 
by regular voters as being chicken," he said. "And voters, 
especially Democratic voters hungry for a general election 
win, want a candidate who is tough and ready." 

Mr. Obama responded to the attacks with a television spot 
of his own in Wisconsin. 

"After 18 debates, with two more coming, Hillary says 
Barack Obama is ducking debates?" the advertisement says, 
showing images from their debates over the last year. 
"It's the same old politics, of phony charges and false 
attacks." 

As Mrs. Clinton was delivering her criticism of Mr. Obama 
in Ohio, a similar argument was presented to Wisconsin 
voters by Mr. Clinton, who referred to Mr. Obama as "the 
excitement of the now." 

"It's about whether you choose the power of solutions over 
the power of speeches," Mr. Clinton told a small gathering 
of voters in Milwaukee, ticking through a list of his 
wife's platforms and accomplishments. 

In New Mexico, one of the more than 20 states to hold 
contests on Feb. 5, the votes were finally counted 
Thursday, giving Mrs. Clinton a victory and providing more 
evidence that the contest was far from concluded. She 
continued to hold a lead among superdelegates, even as a 
New Jersey official, Christine Samuels, changed her support 
to Mr. Obama and at least two others went back to being 
uncommitted. 

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Jeff Zeleny reported from Milwaukee, and Patrick Healy 
from Ohio. 

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