POLITICS
04/10/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Durbin On Clinton Camp Raising Wright: Try Your Best

Sen. Dick Durbin, one of Barack Obama's chief surrogates, said on Wednesday morning that Sen. Hillary Clinton was within her right to use Obama's controversial former pastor as a method to persuade superdelegate support.

But, he added, such a move would likely not bear political fruit.

"Harold Ickes [one of Clinton's chief strategists] can try whatever he'd like to try by way of tactics to win the superdelegates," said Durbin. "But I believe that most of them feel as I do, that Barack Obama has handled this is a responsible way and in a way we would like to see from the president."

On Tuesday, it was reported that Ickes, in an effort to recruit superdelegates to the Clinton camp, had raised the specter of fierce Republican attacks on Obama's relationship to Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

"Superdelegates have to take into account the strengths and weakness of both candidates and decide who would make the strongest candidate against what will undoubtedly be ferocious Republican attacks," Ickes told Talking Points Memo. "I've had super delegates tell me that the Wright issue is a real issue for them."

The statement, while relatively predictable, was the first public admission that the Clinton camp was privately using Wright for political leverage. And while Durbin suggested that it would prove ineffective -- "What has happened since [Obama's] Philadelphia [race] speech is that the ground lost initially has been regained," he told The Huffington Post -- conversations with several uncommitted superdelegates suggested the pastor problem could play a mix role in affecting their decisions.

In the end, much may depend on geography.

According to Nathan Smith, a superdelegate and Kentucky Democratic Party vice chairman, Wright is likely to have a massive impact on voters in his state and geographic region. And, consequently, could affect his judgment when choosing a nominee.

"Poor white people are freaked out by Wright," said Smith. "It has hurt [Obama] bad West Virginia and Kentucky. You can go down the Ohio River and it is ugly. He is going to take an ass whooping... These are not traditional southern racists. They are poor income whites who are shocked. They woke up one morning and said, 'I think he's black!' They were just in a daze. 'He wouldn't tell his preacher to stop that?' ... These are the people who wrapped themselves in the flag for George W. Bush. It is not about him being black it is about the god damn American comment. This is not a religious thing it is about patriotism."

On the other side of the equation is a superdelegate from the west coast who (asking for anonymity) said the Wright issue had died down in his state. Political pressure on the matter, he added, now broke down on the candidate line: concern from Clinton supporters and dismissal from Obama backers.

"It depends to some degree whom you are talking to," he said. "I had a passionate Clinton supporter come into my office and rail about it. My reaction is that I grew up on the south side of Chicago. I can understand exactly what is going on here and I don't think it is a factor at all in making an assessment to Senator Obama... I think I see it dying down. What I get a sense of from the press coverage and the folks that are in the middle - and there aren't too many - I don't think it is moving people one way or another."

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