Barack Obama for the first time on Friday overtook Hillary Clinton’s support among the unelected “super-delegates” who will ultimately settle the Democratic nomination amid signs that people around Mrs Clinton were pushing for her to become Mr Obama’s running mate.
By Edward Luce in Washington
Nine super-delegates on Friday endorsed Mr Obama, including one, Donald Payne, an African-American congressman from New Jersey, who switched his support from Mrs Clinton saying that Mr Obama “can bring about the change the country needs”.
According to the ABC News count, Mr Obama now leads Mrs Clinton among super-delegates with 270 endorsements compared to 267 for her with another 265 yet to commit.
Mr Obama needs another 170 delegates of any type (elected or super-delegate) to cross the 2025 winning threshold.
Friday’s flurry of support for Mr Obama coincided with a number of possibly unauthorized efforts by senior backers of Mrs Clinton to push forward the idea of Mrs Clinton becoming Mr Obama’s vice-presidential running mate.
A number of senior Democratic figures have recently come out in favour of a “unity ticket” to help breach the demographic divisions among the Democratic electorate and in order to help prevent a potentially damaging extension of the nomination battle.
But it was clear that supporters of Mr Obama were far less enthusiastic about the prospect than supporters of Mrs Clinton. Some believe that having an African-American and a woman on the ticket would be far too risky.
Others are bitter about the way Mrs Clinton has run her campaign.
“I don’t think it is possible,” Ted Kennedy, the Massachusetts senator and Obama supporter, told Bloomberg TV. “[Obama should choose someone] in tune with his appeal for the nobler aspects of the American people. If we had real leadership – like we have with Barack Obama – in the number two spot as well, it would be enormously helpful.”
Mr Obama sidestepped the question on the campaign trail. “Until I am a nominee I don’t want to speculate on running mates,” said Mr Obama on Friday, adding that “she would be on anyone’s short list”.
But senior Clinton officials have changed their language in the last two days.
Having previously ruled it out, some are now indulging in public speculation. “It is ultimately up to the two candidates to decide who they want as VP,” Terry McCauliffe, chairman of Mrs Clinton’s campaign, said in a radio interview on Friday.
“I do get excited about the possibility of having Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton crisscrossing this country in the fall of 2008.
“But I have absolutely no say in it. Hillary Clinton and I have never talked about it.”