As the Democratic primary nears its long-awaited conclusion, undecided superdelegates have been drowned under a sudden deluge of angry, sometimes vicious emails from Hillary Clinton supporters urging them to not fall in line behind Barack Obama.
The letter writing campaign picked up steam late Thursday evening when several superdelegates confirmed that a coordinated effort had been launched, apparently independent of Clinton's campaign, to raise last-minute concerns about Obama's candidacy and present the specter of voter defections should the Illinois Democrat become the nominee.
In more than dozen messages sent yesterday evening and shared with The Huffington Post, supporters of Clinton emailed a laundry list of political and exceedingly personal attacks on Obama's candidacy, including criticisms of his prior associations and claims that he, not Clinton, had played the race card. The letters underscore the high emotional pitch of the late stage Democratic primary as well as the utter conviction among many supporters of both campaigns that their candidate is solely worthy of the nomination.
Such campaigns targeting superdelegates have mostly been avoided out of fear that the party officials would react negatively to outside pressure. And at least four superdelegates on the receiving end of yesterday's emails suggested that they did more harm to Clinton's cause than good.
In one exchange, Donna Brazille, Al Gore's campaign manager and a stalwart of the Democratic Party, responded with frustration to a writer's threats of defection. "Honestly, this is the 9th email today," she wrote before 8:00 pm. "So I believe you're ready to not only destroy Roe versus Wade, voting rights, civil liberties and civil rights. Perhaps adding trillions more to the deficits through non-stop tax cuts to the wealthy and 100 more years in Iraq. Yes, please join Rush and McCain asap. The train has left. Catch it."
The Clinton campaign did not return a request for comment as to whether it was behind the email campaign. One author said that she was responding not to the senator's staff, but to commenters on the blog of Taylor Marsh, a committed supporter of the New York Democrat whose readers had gotten a hold of a list of email addresses.
"It was a 'spur of the moment' idea brought about by a blog (Taylor Marsh)," explained Shirley Luther, a Texas Democrat who threatened to vote for McCain should Obama be the nominee. "Tonight several of our bloggers came up with the idea of writing the super delegates. Someone on the blog found a list of emails and posted it.... Everything I wrote is the truth about my political background. The exit polls show I am not alone in refusing to vote for Obama and opting to McCain. This probably would not be possible if there was any other Republican running. But there are a lot of moderate Democrats who do respect his service."
[Added Later]: Taylor Marsh denied any involvement in the affair, saying her readers and commenters were responsible for their own actions.
Luther's email, compared to the nearly dozen provided to The Huffington Post, was mild in tone. Beyond threatening defection from the party, authors attacked Obama for his relationship with Reverend Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers, the unrepentant Weather Underground member who is a Chicago acquaintance of the senator. One writer accused the Illinois Democrat of playing the "race card" against the Clintons -- a proposition most political observers argue is reversed -- while several others called him a misogynist.
"How can we elect someone who has never accomplished anything, refuses to take stands on issues, befriends anti-American terrorists, attends a church for 20 years with Wright, and denies ever hearing anything controversial, and then stages a *public fight* so he can finally denounce him, takes credit for bills in the Senate that he had nothing to do with, and is propped up as the candidate of change??" wrote one Democrat.
Added another: "Obama, in my opinion, will NOT survive the general election against McCain. But even if he does, he will be beholden to the old-time politics, politicians and bundling interests that raised him up to where he is. It's not new, better politics. It's a sales job that's been done by the old power guards... Look at the presidential loser's club that has lined up behind Obama: Walter Mondale, George McGovern, Gary Hart, Ted Kennedy, Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, and John Kerry. Agents of change? Hope, Unity? A new way to do politics?"
At least two other party insiders wrote the Huffington Post expressing concern over the scope ("I've received emails like this for weeks but tonight it started in mass) and negativity of some of the Obama attacks, including one red-state Democrat:
"I spent my entire life in the two reddest states in the entire U.S. so please excuse me if I fail to discern the nuances of the arguments sent my way this evening in what appears to be an orchestrated campaign to intimidate the remaining unpledged delegates by threatening to leave the party and vote for a third Bush term if I and others like me don't vote for Sen. Clinton," wrote the exasperated superdelegate. "I have been uncommitted throughout this campaign because I wanted to see how the candidates performed in a variety of settings. I am proud of them both. But I am horrified by this effort to threaten votes for McCain if super delegates don't vote for Sen. Clinton. I have received hundreds of emails from both sides - but I can say without exception that I have not received a single email from an Obama supporter that threatened a vote for McCain if I didn't support Sen. Obama. You really ought to be ashamed."
Phil Singer, a spokesman for Clinton, emails to say that the campaign knows nothing about the emails. Meanwhile, two readers write in to say they saw the campaign being coordinated at the friendly Clinton website Hillaryis44.org, as well as the blog page on Clinton's own website.