Obama chats up superdelegates in House

May 09, 2008|By New York Times News Service.

In the great hunt for superdelegates, there is no better place to look than the floor of the U.S. House or Representatives, and Sen. Barack Obama dived into a sea of them yesterday.

Obama, who worked the chamber for more than 45 minutes and even got some handshakes from Republicans, insisted that he had just stopped by to say hello, update his supporters and answer questions for any fellow Democrats who remain undecided.

"What do you think, I was going after superdelegates?" Obama joked after leaving the chamber.

But after his commanding victory over Sen. Hillary Clinton in North Carolina and his strong showing in Indiana, Obama's triumphant visit to the House floor had all the buzz and excitement of a victory lap.

Clinton has met with superdelegates away from the Capitol since the results from the primaries on Tuesday. Obama returned with all the subtlety of a rock star.

He started out, shortly before 11 a.m., in the corner of the room with the Pennsylvania delegation including Rep. John P. Murtha, who has endorsed Clinton.

Obama moved down the aisle, swarmed by well-wishers, through the throng of lawmakers milling about for votes on housing legislation. He was flanked by Rep. Steve R. Rothman of New Jersey, who seemed to be serving as bodyguard and ambassador for Obama, who entered the Senate without serving in the House.

Among the crowd was John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, now in his 13th term, who met Wednesday with Clinton at the Democratic National Committee headquarters and told her he would remain uncommitted because his state had voted overwhelmingly for Obama.

Obama made his way into the well of the chamber, at one point stopping by Rep. Yvette D. Clarke of Brooklyn. She showed him a copy of the New York Daily News, which ran his photo yesterday on the front page with the headline "It's His Party."

Teenage House pages, and some visiting children of lawmakers, squirmed through the crowd to say hello.

While Obama has largely portrayed himself as an outsider, an agent of change compared with Clinton or the likely Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, he seemed perfectly at home in the House chamber, barely looking up as the crowd of Democrats shouted "Aye" on a vote.

He chatted with Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader; said hello to Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; and greeted Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. None of them has officially endorsed.

As Obama made his way back down the center aisle, Rep. Ray LaHood, Republican of Illinois, who is retiring after his seventh term, gave chase and grabbed Obama's arm. The senator turned and gave LaHood a hug.

After leaving the chamber, Obama made his way back across the Capitol surrounded by reporters and photographers, pushing forward into the Rotunda as startled tourists realized there was something more exciting to look at than statues and paintings. They cheered and shouted.

As he walked, Obama insisted that the Democratic race would continue. "Senator Clinton is a formidable candidate, she is very likely to win West Virginia and Kentucky; those are two states where she's got insurmountable leads," he said. "There is no doubt that she is the heavy favorite in both states, but my goal has been to spend time in all 50 states."

Obama said his visit to the House was intended partly to reassure Democrats who were concerned about the divisiveness of the long primary contest and also to appeal to potential supporters.

"There are some undecideds," Obama said. "If they have questions for me, then I am certainly happy to respond to them. Obviously people have been anxious about some of the sense of division in the party, and I just wanted to assure them that whatever happens, we will be coming together."

Outside the old Supreme Court chamber, Obama found himself encircled by photographers as members of a tour group shouted at him from across the room. "We're from Illinois over here," someone said.

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