Sorry, Sen. Obama, eight isn’t enough

Sorry, Sen. Obama, eight isn’t enough

Chicago Sun-Times 
March 7, 2008

‘Guys, I mean come on. I just answered like eight questions.”

With those few words, Barack Obama ended a Texas news conference where he had come under tough questioning about influence peddler Tony Rezko from Sun-Times columnists Carol Marin and Lynn Sweet and CBS2 reporter Mike Flannery. In fact, Obama dodged the questions.

Try to imagine President Bush, fleeing questions coming at him fast and furious over a controversy, closing a news conference by saying, “Come on, I just answered like eight questions.” Democrats in Congress and liberal interest groups would be shouting coverup. The editorial pages of the national newspapers would be thundering outrage. The late night comedians and left-wing blogs would be heaping ridicule on him.

Or contrast Obama’s avoidance strategy to John McCain’s response to what was universally considered a shoddy New York Times story. It alleged two disillusioned McCain aides eight years ago thought he might have had a romantic relationship with a lobbyist. McCain met with reporters and took every question they had about the article.

Obama is lucky the Rezko affair is a Chicago issue with which national reporters are unfamiliar. And, given what’s known today, it’s hard to see how the Rezko case could wound Obama’s political ambitions. But for that reason, it’s hard to understand his reluctance to answer questions from the Chicago investigative reporters who know the Rezko issues best.

Maybe that’s something Democratic superdelegates ought to consider as they ponder whether to declare for Obama now or wait to make a decision closer to the Democrats’ August convention. They need to know that he will be the strongest candidate for November. In addition to the Rezko issue, Hillary Clinton in recent days has succeeded in raising questions about Obama’s experience, his credentials to be commander in chief and his stance on NAFTA. Obama had the momentum going into Texas and Ohio and outspent Clinton two-to-one, but lost.

With those wins, Clinton urges superdelegates to wait for more voting to determine which candidate now has momentum and the best chance of beating McCain. Obama’s camp counters the math makes it impossible for her to catch up with his delegate count. But there’s the tricky question of what to do about Florida and Michigan, where 2 million Democrats voted but no delegates would be seated because those primaries violated party scheduling rules. A revote is possible, helpful to her.

Obama’s premise is that the superdelegates have to ratify as the nominee whichever candidate ends up with the lead in delegates. That looks like a pretty sure thing for him at the moment. But when you count Florida and Michigan, the popular vote is very close with the two candidates separated by 30,000 votes. Even if maybe she can’t overcome the delegate gap, Clinton could overtake Obama in the popular vote. Then what should superdelegates do? How do you decide, as the Democratic mantra goes, to count every vote?

What irony that would be for a Democratic Party that has spent the last seven years complaining that Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the presidency because Bush had the general election equivalent of delegate strength, the Electoral College vote.

Obama needs to find a way to regain the momentum. Upcoming votes in Wyoming and Mississippi are expected wins for him; then comes crucial Pennsylvania next month where Clinton is favored. A close finish means the superdelegates may actually have to weigh all the political considerations and take responsibility for picking the nominee. That could make for a bitter fight leading up to the convention and recriminations after. The allegiances of two important constituencies — African Americans and women — are at stake. Who will be angrier — and likely to stay at home in November — if their candidate is seen as unfairly losing a razor-close contest?

And how might Obama’s refusal to answer questions about Rezko come in play in deciding his fate?

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