Endorsement watch: Who's jumping in and who's staying out

The pace of endorsements -- and of reports of non-endorsements -- is picking up in recent weeks. Always remember that endorsements are rarely significant and they rarely move vote. Hillary Clinton's 15% victory in Massachusetts coupled with the fact that Obama made no inroads among Hispanics on February 5th shows that even Ted Kennedy's much-touted support did not fundamentally alter the state of the races he was supposed to impact.

But endorsements can showcase that a train is leaving the station, which is ultimately what might have helped Obama catch up with Clinton on Super Tuesday as the Illinois Senator used his list of backers to demonstrate that he was an equal player. Now that Obama is building up a solid pledged delegate lead, a wave of endorsements could signal that he is ready to take off, further hammering the Clinton campaign. Not to mention that most of these peoples are superdelegates, so they will actually vote on the convention floor.

The endorsement that is making news today is... Lincoln Chafee, the former Republican Senator from Rhode Island. Chafee was always an atypical Republican, and he quit the GOP shortly after he was ousted from office in 2006. He was the only GOPer, for example, to vote against the Iraq War resolution and he announced in 2004 that he had not voted for his party's nominee, casting a strange write-in ballot for Bush's father instead. What is especially interesting about this endorsement is that Senator Whitehouse, the Democrat who defeated Chafee in 2006, is backing Hillary Clinton, an almost caricatural illustration of registered Democrats preferring Clinton and Obama drawing strength from the votes of non-Democrats. (It is worth pointing out first Whitehouse is a superdelegate but Chafee of course is not, and second that the RI primary is on March 4th.)

The second endorsement that is making people talk is David Wilhelm's, who is none other than the campaign manger of Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign. Wilhelm then became the chairman of the DNC. He now is backing Obama, in what is looking like a crushing rebuke to his former boss's wife, but in fact is not that surprising. Wilhelm was pushed out of the DNC by Clinton in 1994 in tense conditions, and has not been close to the couple since then.

And that leaves us with the big trio of Democratic figures that have not yet endorsed: Al Gore, John Edwards and Nancy Pelosi. First, Al Gore, who many people expected to endorse Obama long ago but who has stayed on the sidelines (Gore has cast a ballot in the Tennessee primary, so presumably his mind is made up as to who he is supporting). Now, both CNN and TPM are reporting that Al Gore has decided to not endorse, as he does not want to endanger his role as the elder statesman above petty primary showdowns. Not to forget that Gore probably remembers that Dean's 2004 fall started shortly after Gore endorsed him, and is hesitating to put his reputation on the line yet again.

The surprise, however, comes from Nancy Pelosi. The New York Post reports that Pelosi is considering endorsing Obama. Pelosi's leaning towards the Illinois Senator became obvious a few weeks ago when some of the California reps who are closest to her announced their support for Obama. But it would be a surprise if Pelosi jumps in soon, when the primaries are still contested. If nothing else, that could make her job as House Speaker more complicated as she would not be in a position of reconciling opposite factions or she could find her authority contested.

Both Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi will have to show their support publicly eventually, since both are superdelegates. But the question is whether they will do so before all the votes are in, and before they get a chance to see the convention will not be brokered.

Finally, John Edwards remains a question mark. There have been a number of reports over the past few days that Edwards is actively considering a Clinton endorsement, which would be a huge surprise given how vitriolic Edwards was for most of the campaign. ABC News has a long report devoted to this question, with interviews of numerous Edwards aides:

Though he sometimes aligned himself with Obama — and against Clinton — as a candidate, several Edwards campaign insiders say the former senator began to sour on Obama toward the end of his own campaign, and ultimately left the race questioning whether Obama had the toughness needed to prevail in a presidential race.

I have long said that the intensity of the discussion over health care -- and Obama's pouding Clinton for individual mandates, which were a key part of Edwards's plan as well -- explains Edwards's reluctance to back Obama. And the numerous other interrogations about Obama's progressive creds over the past few months are also probably making the former candidate waver. Don't forget the very bitter fight that erupted beween Obama and Edwards in the run-up to Iowa about whether unions were "Washington money" and whether they should be involved in the caucus process.

That said, a Clinton endorsement would be a huge surprise because of how far Edwards went in criticizing Clinton as a corporate force of the status-quo. It almost seems like these reports of a possible Clinton endorsement have been planted by the Edwards aides and possibly by Obama's to make things look more suspenseful than they are and get an Obama endorsement to appear more unexpected than it really would be.

Finally, a word on New Mexico -- which has nothing to do with endorsements, but where the counting is continuing 9 days after Super Tuesday! Clinton is currently leading by 1,000 votes with provisional ballots now being processed. Of the 17,000 that were cast, 8,000 have been deemed viable so Obama needs to win those by 1,000 votes, or about 60% of them. We should know the winner of New Mexico (1 delegate will be at stake here) in the coming days.


  • How about an Edwards compromise nomination? Now that would be a surprise for you. Two years ago when this divide and conquer strategy was floated,he was the presumptive nominee. Nobody then thought a black or a woman could win. (Or a jew,but Feingold wouldn't play along.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 14 February, 2008 14:02  

  • Nobody then thought a black or a woman could win. (Or a jew,but Feingold wouldn't play along.)

    Hahaha. Good old Feingold, He is a problem. Hehehe.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 14 February, 2008 14:20  

  • If he had known then that this race would turn out like this I think he would have put aside his aversion to this slice and dice to the lowest prejudicial denominator method and jumped right in. As distasteful as it is, it's working pretty well.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 14 February, 2008 16:57  

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