Pr. George's Executive Switches To Obama

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson, a Democratic convention delegate pledged to support Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, said yesterday that he thinks Sen. Barack Obama has "in a real sense" won the Democratic nomination and that he now plans to support Obama at the August convention.

Johnson, who endorsed Clinton nine days before Maryland's February primary, said he will urge Gov. Martin O'Malley and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who co-chair Clinton's Maryland campaign, to bring all of her delegates to Obama's camp for the sake of party unity.

"I cannot in good conscience go to the convention and not support Barack," Johnson said in an interview. "She ran a great campaign, but she fell short of the line."

This is Johnson's second change of heart in the race. He had allowed his name to be listed as a supporter by the Obama campaign in December.

Unlike superdelegates, who are free to endorse either candidate, Johnson is one of 28 pledged delegates who have agreed to represent the 36 percent of Maryland Democrats who voted for Clinton on Feb. 12.

Some Clinton delegates were chosen by voters at the ballot. Others, such as Johnson, were selected in consultation with the Clinton campaign by the Maryland Democratic State Central Committee, party spokesman David Paulson said.

But Paulson said that pledged delegates are under no obligation to stick by their candidate and that Johnson is free to defect if he chooses.

"The freedom to change your mind or change your vote does exist," Paulson said. "They're not like superdelegates, but they do have this flexibility."

Obama swamped Clinton in Maryland, capturing 61 percent of the vote statewide and 79 percent of the vote in Prince George's County. Given the results in Maryland and elsewhere, Johnson said, the Maryland party would be unenthusiastic about the November election if Obama were not the nominee.

A decision by O'Malley or Mikulski to release all of Maryland's Clinton delegates could be the start of a national wave to unify behind Obama, Johnson said.

"If we do that, I think we could shift some other states and bring the race to an end," he said.

Johnson's call was rejected by some Clinton's other supporters in the state. Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for Mikulski, said the Maryland senator "remains 100 percent behind Senator Clinton."

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