Hoyer Says Clinton-Obama Tensions May Hurt Democrats' Prospects

The House majority leader talks to Chris Cillizza about the presidential race and the recently-passed House ethics bill. Video by Ed O'Keefe, Emily Freifeld/washingtonpost.com
By Chris Cillizza and Eric Pianin
washingtonpost.com Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 12, 2008; 7:31 PM

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer acknowledged yesterday that the ongoing nomination fight between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama has the potential to cause a major fissure within the Democratic Party due to the deeply personal nature of the choice.

"When they attack one another, it's not just an attack on the other candidate, it is taken I think by women and by African Americans in a more personal sense," said Hoyer. "To that extent I think the continued clash between the two candidates, which is inevitable, is not particularly helpful."

The historic nature of the choice between Clinton and Obama has largely been cast as an unalloyed positive development for the Democratic party, but Hoyer said that strong identity politics at work in the race "tends to exacerbate the good feelings that the other candidate's supporters have for the candidate making the attack."

Hoyer (Md.), the second-ranking Democrat in the House, made his comments on "PostTalk," washingtonpost.com's video interview program with newsmakers.

In the last 72 hours, the rhetoric between Obama and Clinton ¿ particularly on the issue of race ¿ has become increasingly heated.

Following a comment by 1984 vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro that Obama would not be where he was as the front-runner in the Democratic contest if he was a white man, Obama adviser David Axelrod suggested that Clinton surrogates were intentionally bringing up the issue of race. "All this is part of an insidious pattern that needs to be addressed," said Axelrod.

Clinton distanced herself from Ferraro's comments but did not request that Ferraro break ties with the campaign. Late Wednesday, however, Ferraro did just that ¿ stepping down from Clinton's finance committee.

Hoyer, who remains neutral in the presidential race, praised Obama for his "amazing capacity to reach across racial divides" and condemned any comments made by either campaign that would seek to make a political issue of Clinton's gender or Obama's race.

While Hoyer had previously expressed his hope that the primary fight would be over by the spring, it has become abundantly clear following Clinton's wins in Ohio and Texas that neither candidate will secure enough pledged delegates to wrap up the nomination ¿ meaning that superdelegates, of which Hoyer is one, will decide the identity of the nominee.

Hoyer stood by his previous statement that superdelegates -- mostly elected officials and party leaders -- should act as independent operators when choosing between the two candidates ¿ using his own home state of Maryland as an example.

Maryland held its presidential primary on Feb. 12, a race won overwhelmingly by Obama. But, according to Hoyer, he and other Maryland superdelegates will not be called upon to choose a candidate until late August when the Democratic National Convention convenes in Denver.

With so much time having passed between the February vote and the August convention, it is unreasonable to assume that nothing in the race has changed and that if another vote were held in Maryland that the same result would occur, explained Hoyer.

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