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« Dem Out In Swing OR District | Blog Home Page | Dems Still Counting In IL »

Surrogates Take Heat

Through more than two dozen contests, the Democratic race remains even. That should put to rest, once and for all, the notion that somehow the Clinton family controls the Democratic Party. Surely, if they owned the party, the race for the nomination would be over -- in fact, it probably wouldn't have begun. The idea that Bill Clinton is the world's best political strategist is one that should be re-examined, as well.

But while they haven't won yet, and very well may not win, the Clintons still hold a considerable amount of sway in the party, enough to make certain politicians think twice about bucking them and party staffers fear working publicly for an opponent. Hillary Clinton could still win, they think, and if she does, their future in the party could come to a swift and unglamorous end.

Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano is one of those feeling the heat. A former U.S. Attorney under Bill Clinton, Napolitano was one of the first of a wave of prominent Democrats to back Barack Obama, and she did all she could to help him win not only her state's primary, but caucuses in neighboring Nevada, where she served as a surrogate at several events.

Clinton won both the Nevada caucuses and the Arizona primary, and Napolitano's nod, Clinton backers in Arizona told the Daily Star, could come back to haunt her. Napolitano cannot run for a third term as governor in 2010, but she might have a political future if she decides to run for Senate, either a seat vacated by John McCain or by challenging the state's junior senator, Jon Kyl. Napolitano downplayed the importance of her own endorsement, but said it had helped close the gap from a 20-point Obama deficit to just an 8 point loss.

One radio host Politics Nation spoke to in Missouri said his callers echoed the concerns. Women particularly, radio host Mark Reardon, of KMOX Radio, said, were upset with Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill's decision to back Obama over Clinton. Still, McCaskill did better than Napolitano did: Obama actually won her home state.

In Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick and Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, all of whom backed Obama, couldn't come close to matching the clout of dozens of state legislators who backed Clinton. None of the three men had served in the state legislature in a state where machine politics still matter, and none could muster the same get out the vote power as local legislators or Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, another Clinton backer.

Kennedy's endorsement drew particularly harsh fire from the New York State chapter of the National Organization for Women, which slammed the liberal lion for abandoning women when it mattered.

Still, many back Obama proudly, if secretly. Former Clinton administration officials like Greg Craig, Susan Rice, Frederico Pena and others have long been on board with the Illinois Senator over their former boss's wife. Some, though, remain in the closet. ABC News met several former lower- and mid-level Clinton staffers at an apartment in Manhattan to watch the Clinton-Obama debate, and openly root for Obama. None would let the reporter cite their names.