First it was Teddy Kennedy; then came John Kerry.
On Monday, Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama and wagged a finger at the Clintons. On Tuesday, Kerry accused the Clintonites of engaging in a “spin war” and practicing “the type of politics…a lot of us are trying to reject.”
Kerry was talking to reporters on a conference call arranged by the Obama campaign. Minutes earlier, Clinton’s top campaign aides had been on their own conference call with the media and had argued that the Democratic presidential delegates being selected in Florida during Tuesday’s election ought to be counted by the Democratic Party. The problem: after Florida defied the Democratic National Committee and moved its primary to an early position, the party stripped the state of its delegates. All the major candidates, out of respect to the party and fearful of offending voters in the traditional early states, pledged not to campaign in Florida. But now that it seems that Hillary Clinton might do well in the Florida election (and now that Iowa and New Hampshire are done), her campaign is proclaiming, Honor the Florida voter.
Reporters on the Clinton call asked if the Clinton crew was trying to have it both ways: not campaigning in Florida (when doing so could have hurt her elsewhere) but now claiming its delegates should be recognized. Not at all, said Mark Penn, her chief strategist, and Howard Wolfson, her communications director. Should you be “seen as desperate”? one reporter asked. “Something unexpected happened,” Penn explained, referring to the reported large turn-out in Florida.
Most of the scribes on the call appeared to believe the Clintons were taking a somewhat situational position. And on the Obama campaign conference call, John Kerry hammered this point. He claimed that Hillary Clinton had said there would be no delegates coming out of FLorida, yet now she was adopting a different stance. The pro-Clinton AFSCME union, he noted, had blanketed Florida with pro-CLinton literature in a “subcampaign.” He slapped the Clinton campaign for switching its position and not playing by the rules. David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager, called Clinton’s attempted Florida grab “a very political maneuver.”
Will Clinton’s Florida gambit matter in the long run? The Clinton campaign wouldn’t mind pocketing a win after being trounced by Obama in South Carolina, as the race heads toward Supersaturated Tuesday. Yet there’s no telling if voters elsewhere will care. But if at the end of the primary contest, Obama and Clinton are close in terms of delegates, what happens to Florida could decide the election. Until then, today’s back-and-forth was an instance of the Clinton camp doing whatever it takes to win and the Obama crew claiming this proves that Clinton is an old-style pol. This tussle is probably too much of an inside-baseball controversy to affect the voting in other states, but it certainly is another indicator of the bitter feuding under way as the two campaigns hit crunch time.