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For Black Superdelegates, Pressure to Back Obama

Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, here joining Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in an appearance with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, has resisted pressure to back Sen. Barack Obama in an effort to elect the nation's first black president.
Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, here joining Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in an appearance with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, has resisted pressure to back Sen. Barack Obama in an effort to elect the nation's first black president. (By Carolyn Kaster -- Associated Press)

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By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 3, 2008

CLEVELAND -- Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones doesn't care to be lectured about her choice in the Democratic presidential race.

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The 58-year-old congresswoman from Ohio has emerged as one of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's most outspoken black supporters, the rare African American politician willing to publicly question Sen. Barack Obama's readiness for the White House.

Tubbs Jones has picked apart his record in campaign conference calls and lambasted the "Harvard arrogance" of Obama backers who have demanded that African American leaders fall in behind the senator from Illinois in his quest to become the nation's first black president.

While Obama's candidacy has often united blacks and whites at the ballot box, it has driven a wedge through the black political establishment, exposing a rift between a new generation, whose members see their political horizons as limitless, and their predecessors, who have struggled to establish a following outside of heavily African American areas.

Tubbs Jones is pushing back hard against the kind of pressure that has come down on Rep. John Lewis (Ga.) and other black Democratic superdelegates who are being pressed to back Obama's candidacy.

"I say shame on anyone who's engaged in that conduct, to put that kind of pressure on John Lewis," Tubbs Jones said. "I'm not trying to be a martyr. I think Senator Clinton is the best candidate. And the beauty of the United States of America is you have the right to have your opinion, and I have the right to my opinion."

"I'm not going to succumb to that kind of pressure," she added. "If I change my mind, it will be because Senator Clinton said, 'Stephanie, let's make a move.' "

Superdelegates, a collection of 796 officeholders and party leaders, will make up about a fifth of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention in August. Unlike "pledged" delegates, they are free to support any candidate they like, and this year they are under increasing pressure to reject the role of kingmaker.

Some have already gotten the message. Until last week, Lewis was one of Clinton's most prominent black supporters, an icon from the civil rights movement whose endorsement last fall was a major coup, underscoring the strong bonds between the Clintons and many African American leaders.

Lewis described his defection as more anguishing than his decision to lead the "Bloody Sunday" march in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., when he was nearly beaten to death. In a statement issued last week, he explained that he viewed Obama's campaign as "the beginning of a new movement in American political history" and that he wanted "to be on the side of the people."

Before his switch, Lewis came under strong pressure from Obama allies in the Congressional Black Caucus, including Reps. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (Ill.) and Artur Davis (Ala.), and from a burgeoning movement of black bloggers and activists who believe that some of their elders -- even a legend like Lewis -- have grown too comfortable and out of touch. He also drew a primary challenge from the Rev. Markel Hutchins, an Atlanta activist who attacked Lewis for going against the will of his constituents.

"The attitude is, 'I've been here, I've earned this right, leave me alone -- I get to do what I want.' Well, that's just not true," said James Rucker, founder of ColorOfChange.org, a 400,000-member group seeking to shake up the African American political status quo.


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