Romney endorses McCain, Clinton suffers more blows

 
  

Republican John McCain has taken a major step toward healing divisions in the party and winning support of wary conservatives, securing the endorsement of Mitt Romney, his former chief rival and bitter critic in a tense presidential nomination battle.

 

In a tight Democratic race, Barack Obama continued to pick up steam. The first-term senator secured the backing of one of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s influential black congressional backers while another prominent civil rights leader and congressman openly discussed a possible switch.

 

Obama also was likely to win one of the most coveted endorsements in organized labor on Friday, that of the Service Employees International Union. Clinton notched a minor, but much-needed victory of her own, winning on Thursday the popular vote in New Mexico’s caucuses.

 

McCain has been the presumptive Republican nominee since Romney, a millionaire former venture capitalist, dropped out of the race a week ago. Despite his wide lead in the delegate count, he struggled to win over the party’s core conservative and evangelical Christian base – a voting bloc that has so far sided more with preacher-turned-politician Mike Huckabee.

 

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, endorsed McCain at his former campaign headquarters in Boston, and asked his national convention delegates to swing behind the veteran Arizona senator and former prisoner-of-war in some of his kindest words to date about his former rival.

 

“Even when the contest was close and our disagreements were debated, the caliber of the man was apparent,” Romney said, as McCain stood next to him.

 

Romney’s nod of support capped a bitter yearlong rivalry between the men over the party’s nomination. Romney criticised McCain in television ads in New Hampshire, and both candidates targeted each other almost daily during campaign events and debates. Neither is especially fond of the other.

 

Over the past year, Romney cast McCain as outside of the Republican conservative mainstream and a Washington insider who contributed to the problems plaguing a broken system. McCain, in turn, argued that Romney’s equivocations and reversals on several issues indicated a willingness to change his positions to fit his political goals.

 

The additional delegates, assuming all back McCain, would put the former Vietnam prisoner-of-war just 63 shy of the 1,191 needed to clinch the party’s nomination. He now has 851 to Huckabee’s 242. Romney had collected 277 delegates.

 

While Romney can ask his delegates to support McCain, he will not be able to simply hand them over. Many are from caucus states that will not select the actual delegates until state conventions this spring. Those delegates will be selected by people who supported Romney in the initial caucuses; the direction they go depends on whether they follow Romney’s lead in endorsing McCain.

 

While McCain struggled with conservatives, Clinton faced difficulties of a different sort.

 

With added momentum from his string of eight victories since Saturday, Obama has a good opportunity to extend his streak with weekend primaries in Wisconsin and Hawaii, his native state.

 

He secured two endorsements Thursday and was expected to win another on Friday. Former Republican Sen Lincoln Chafee, now an independent, endorsed Obama as the best presidential candidate to restore the America’s credibility. Similarly, the United Food and Commercial Workers, a politically active union with significant membership in the upcoming Democratic battlegrounds of Texas and Ohio on March 4, threw its support behind him.

 

On Friday he is likely to win the backing of the Service Employees International Union – a coveted boost ahead of those two state contests, The Associated Press has learned. The 1.8 million-member union would only say that President Andy Stern and Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger will make a major political announcement on Friday.

 

Clinton, who just a few weeks ago was considered the overwhelming Democratic favorite, has struggled to keep up with Obama,

 

Even as she rallied to halt Obama’s momentum, jabbing at the front-runner and highlighting her economic policies while portraying him as more flash than substance, she endured another blow as one of her superdelegates – congressional leaders who are free to decide for whom they will vote – switched sides.

 

Rep David Scott’s defection and remarks by Rep. John Lewis, a prominent lawmaker and civil rights leader, highlight the difficulty Clinton faces in a campaign that pits a black man against a woman for a nomination historically the domain of white men.

 

“You’ve got to represent the wishes of your constituency,” Scott told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday in the US Capitol. “My proper position would be to vote the wishes of my constituents.” The third-term lawmaker represents a district that gave more than 80 per cent of its vote to Obama in the February 5 Georgia primary.

 

Lewis, whose Atlanta-area district voted 3-to-1 for Obama, said he is not ready to switch sides. But several associates said he has become increasingly torn about his early endorsement of Clinton. They spoke on condition of anonymity, citing private conversations.

 

In an interview, Lewis likened Obama to Robert F Kennedy in his ability to generate campaign excitement, and left open the possibility he might swing behind the Illinois senator. “It could (happen). There’s no question about it. It could happen with a lot of people. ... We can count, and we see the clock,” Lewis said.

 

Clinton’s one victory of late came Thursday when days of tallying ballots following the February 5 contest in New Mexico showed she won the popular vote in the southwestern US state. But the triumph brought with it just one delegate, raising her overall tally to 1,220 to Obama’s 1,276.

 

Of the 22 states that held “Super Tuesday” Democratic primaries and caucuses on “Super Tuesday,” New Mexico was the last to report a winner. State Democratic Chairman Brian Colon made the announcement after a marathon hand count of 17,000 provisional ballots that had to be given to voters the day of the race because of long lines and a shortage of ballots.

 

Still, the win injects some energy in her apparently faltering campaign ahead of the March 4 contests in Texas and Ohio, must-win big state races.

 

Looking to halt Obama’s momentum, Clinton stepped up her assault on the new front-runner, trying to shore up her appeal with some middle-class voters who appear to be leaning toward him. She proposed restrictions on oil, insurance, credit card, student loans and Wall Street investment companies she said would save ordinary Americans $55 billion (Dh200.75 billion).

 

The focus on the economy was aimed at appealing to voters in industrial states like Ohio that have been hard hit amid fears of a recession fueled by the nationwide mortgage and credit crisis.

 

“For seven long years, we’ve had a government of, by, and for the special interests, and we’ve had enough,” the New York senator told an audience at a General Motors plant in Ohio. “It’s time to level the playing field against the special interests and deliver 21st century solutions to rebuild the middle class.”

 

Clinton’s new plan appeared designed to respond to some of the sharpest criticism she has received on the campaign trail from Obama and John Edwards, who dropped out of the race last month.

 

A poll released on Thursday shows Clinton leading Obama in Ohio 55 per cent to 34 per cent, with an almost 2 to 1 lead in the state among white voters, and almost as big an advantage with women and voters age 45 and older. In Pennsylvania, which holds its contest April 22, Clinton had 52 per cent to Obama’s 36 per cent.

 

The Quinnipiac University polls in both states were conducted February 6-12 and have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 per cent. (AP)

 
 
 
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