Obama Now Focusing Mostly on McCain
Saturday, May 10, 2008; Page A04
ALBANY, Ore., May 9 -- As Sen. Barack Obama matched her in endorsements from the party leaders who are likely to decide the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, aides to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's struggling campaign dismissed suggestions that she is close to dropping out of the race.
Obama picked up endorsements from nine superdelegates Friday, expanding his lead in the overall delegate count and moving him into a virtual tie with Clinton in superdelegates.
"He's winning," former senator John Edwards, who quit the race earlier this year, said in an interview. "He's ahead, he's ahead in delegates, he's ahead in the popular vote, he's raising a lot more money, and I think this thing is headed toward a close in the not-too-distant future. So it's clear this thing is coming to an end." Edwards, who is leading a new initiative to combat poverty, said he is not close to making an endorsement but he held out the possibility that he may still take sides.
Campaigning in Oregon, Obama continued his shift into general-election mode, keeping his focus almost exclusively on Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, and mentioning Clinton only when voters asked about her. Obama criticized McCain's tax-cut proposals, his health-care plan (which Obama said would not help the sick and the less affluent) and his Iraq policy, among other things.
"Senator McCain is running for president to double down on George Bush's failed policies. I am running to change them, and that will be the fundamental difference in this election when I am the Democratic nominee for president," he said during an appearance at a software firm here. "John McCain will stand with Washington's tried and, I believe, failed approaches of the past. I will stand with the American people on behalf of a new direction, because I believe it's time for America to once again be a place where you can make it if you try."
In Beaverton, Obama criticized McCain's proposal for a gasoline-tax holiday, but did not even mention that Clinton has been pushing the proposal, too -- a sharp break from last week when he hammered her for it in Indiana and North Carolina.
Instead, Obama spoke of Clinton in conciliatory terms -- part of a strategy of seeking to defuse tensions with her and her husband and guard against any perception of overconfidence on his part -- when asked whether he might ask his donors to help retire her campaign debt when the nomination battle finally ends.
"That's not a conversation that we've had, because our working assumption right now is that we're in the middle of a race," he said, but then added: "Historically, after a campaign is done and you want to unify the party, particularly when you've had a strong opponent, you want to make sure you're putting that opponent in a strong position so that they can work to win an election [for the party ticket] in November, so obviously I would want to have a broad range of discussions with Senator Clinton about how I could make her feel good about the process and have her on the team moving forward. But as I said, that's premature right now. She's still actively running, and we still have business to do here in Oregon and other states."
When a voter asked whether he would consider Clinton as a running mate, he continued to insist that he is taking nothing for granted. "I have not won this nomination yet, so it would be presumptuous of me to suggest that she's going to be my running mate when we're still actively running," he said. "We do not have this nomination locked up. We're still competing. She's going to do very well in West Virginia and Kentucky, she will win those states in all likelihood by significant margins. . . . So until I'm the nominee, I don't want to speculate on running mates."
A prominent Obama supporter, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.), said he does not think that a joint ticket is possible -- a comment that was later clarified by his spokesman, who said that is because the race had grown too contentious.
Obama said he was "gratified" by his additional superdelegate endorsements Friday, which by some counts put him over the top in that department, but his celebration was muted. "Our focus has always been on the pledged delegates and just getting the American people to vote for us, and we think that, ultimately, that should be the strongest measure of who's the nominee," he said. "But if superdelegates also feel that we're going to be a strong candidate, then I'm very pleased with that." An Associated Press tally Friday showed Obama with 1,859 total delegates and Clinton with 1,698. A total of 2,025 are needed to clinch the nomination. Among superdelegates, the AP count had Clinton with 272.5 and Obama with 271.
Clinton, meanwhile, continued to show no signs of ratcheting back her efforts. She criticized Obama's health-care plan as she, too, campaigned in Oregon. Her advisers said that despite being forced to lend her campaign at least $11 million this year, she still has enough resources to compete in West Virginia on Tuesday and in Oregon and Kentucky the following week.
Clinton has raised "seven figures" since last Tuesday, a senior adviser said Friday, and has enough cash available to run advertisements before the primaries in Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia. "We are competitive with Obama in those states" in terms of advertising, Clinton aide Howard Wolfson said.
"This is a big difference in this campaign, and, really, it's not a difference of politics so much as commitment," Clinton said of Obama's health-care plan Friday. "One of the reasons I wanted to run for president was to finish the work I started in 1993 and 1994." Clinton's appearance at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland was part of a two-day tour of Oregon, which will vote on May 20.
Geoff Garin, the top strategist for the campaign, met with reporters Friday morning to make the argument on which Clinton's entire case now rests: that she is better positioned to win swing voters, especially in vulnerable areas. Garin distributed a pamphlet, "Winning in the Tough Districts: Building a Bigger Majority," that outlined 20 seats where freshman House Democrats face potentially tough challenges from Republicans. Clinton has won 16 of the 20 seats the campaign selected to highlight. "We're not oblivious to the environment in which we're operating," Garin said, but he added that he still thinks Clinton will have built up more momentum over the past three months than Obama has. Still, Garin and Wolfson, who also briefed reporters in Washington, said that of the 16 seats whose districts Clinton had won, only five of the members had endorsed her so far. Four others have endorsed Obama.
Kornblut reported from Washington. Staff writer Perry Bacon Jr., traveling with Clinton, contributed to this report.