Throughout their contentious debate on Wednesday, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton tried again and again to put Sen. Barack Obama on the defensive in a pointed attempt, her advisers say, to raise doubts about his electability among a small but powerful audience: the uncommitted superdelegates who will likely determine the nomination.
Although Clinton made her best shot in what might have been her final debate with Obama, interviews on Thursday with a cross-section of superdelegates — members of Congress, elected officials and party leaders — showed that none of them were particularly persuaded by her attacks on Obama’s strength as a potential Democratic presidential nominee, his recent gaffes and his relationships with his former pastor and with a former member of the Weather Underground.
In fact, the Obama campaign announced endorsements from two more superdelegates on Thursday, after rolling out three on Wednesday and two others since late last week in what appeared to be an orchestrated show of strength before Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary.
Obama advisers said that one of the pick-ups on Thursday, District of Columbia Councilman Harry Thomas Jr., had initially favored Clinton, but Clinton advisers denied that, and a Thomas aide said the councilman had been neutral before Thursday.
In interviews, 15 uncommitted superdelegates said they did not believe that recent gaffes by both candidates would carry any particular influence over their final decision. They said they had particularly tired of all the attention, by the Clinton campaign and the news media, on Obama’s recent comment that some Americans were “bitter” over the economy and chose to “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them” as a result.
And if there were some moments of concern reflected in the debate — the talk of Clinton’s high unfavorability ratings, Obama’s shaky answer about defending Israel — they all doubted that those moments would be deal-breakers, either. Instead, most of the superdelegates said they wanted to wait for the results of at least the next major primaries — in Pennsylvania on Tuesday and Indiana and North Carolina two weeks later — before choosing a candidate.
“I feel like we’ve heard a lot about gaffes as they relate to electability, but what really matters to people is how to deal with the economy and create jobs,” said John W. Olsen, an uncommitted superdelegate from Connecticut and president of the AFL-CIO there. “I also want to wait and hear from all of the Democrats in the primaries and caucuses who haven’t had a chance to choose and vote yet.”
Clinton advisers acknowledged that they had not seen short-term evidence that their attacks on Obama were winning over many superdelegates, and they acknowledged that he had picked up more of them in recent weeks — though she maintained a narrowing overall lead in superdelegates. They predicted, however, that the mounting scrutiny of Obama would ultimately lead superdelegates to cool to his candidacy and come to see Clinton as more of a known quantity, battle tested, and shrewd about the best ways to beat the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, in the fall.