From NBC/NJ's Matthew E. Berger
At a time when Sen. Hillary Clinton is increasingly relying on superdelegates to vault her to the Democratic Party's nomination, a handful of undecided and pledged superdelegates are coming forward to say her campaign's tactics in recent weeks are doing more harm than good.
The Democratic Party insiders say they believe Clinton's direct attacks against Sen. Barack Obama in recent days are hurting the party and its chances in November, and also say it is showing a calculated, desperate-to-win side of Clinton that they dislike.
"In looking at the manner in which the candidates are campaigning, I think it would be best they focused their attention on the presumptive nominee and showed our party which one is better in campaigning against McCain," said Garry Shay, a California superdelegate, who announced his support for Clinton.
Unlike some in the party, these superdelegates said they do not believe Clinton should drop out of the race. They said they are committed to the democratic process, and want to allow the states still remaining to cast their ballots. But they acknowledged Obama is the likely nominee and suggested the personal attacks were only hurting the party and its viability.
The Clinton campaign has been actively wooing these delegates, believing a plurality represents the strongest, and increasingly the only, way for her to win the nomination. But one undeclared delegate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the recent tactics are turning her and other superdelegates off.
"I don't think anybody's saying 'step aside,' but 'stop with the garbage' is what people want to say," the delegate said. "Just chill a little bit."
As activists committed to the party, they said, they have been impressed by Obama's ability to bring new Democrats into the fold, and they worry that Clinton is threatening that.
"We like the fact that there is a candidate that has won so many states overwhelmingly," the delegate said. "We're feeling her advisors are leading her in a path that diminishes her as well as him."
Several said they were angered by comments from James Carville, who called Bill Richardson "Judas" for backing Obama after serving in the Clinton White House. One delegate said Richardson's rationale for supporting Obama, and his implicit frustration at the Clintons' heavy-handed approach to garnering his support, was echoed among superdelegates.
Others said they were frustrated by recent reports that Clinton embellished her description of landing in Bosnia as First Lady, and said it suggested she would do anything to win. "I don't remember what movie I saw two weeks ago; I don't necessarily remember what I had for dinner last night," one superdelegate said. "But I would remember having to duck and run from sniper fire."
The final straw, though, were Clinton's comments Tuesday, when she said the Rev. Jeremiah Wright "would not have been my pastor." Several superdelegates saw it as a direct, personal attack on Obama.
"I think it's very dangerous for any candidate to constantly thrum on what they perceive as sensational criticisms of their opponent," said Debra Kozikowski, an uncommitted superdelegate from Massachusetts. "I would be more likely to respond positively to discussions of issues that effect Americans versus what might be perceived as character flaws."
Clinton campaign officials said Clinton's comments were a direct response to a question she received at an editorial board meeting and suggested personal attacks have gone in both directions in the primary race.
The party activists said they have been receiving calls from members, a majority of whom want them to support whoever has won the popular vote. Many superdelegates are themselves elected by the Democratic Party and believe most will follow the will of party members for the party's future, and their own viability.
And they say they are not buying some of the Clinton campaign's explanations as to why they should support her, whether it is her victories in large states, primary states or those likely to go Democratic in the November election.
"Periodically, over the last couple of weeks, you will see a news story or get something from the campaign, and you'll go, 'How stupid do you think I am?" one uncommitted superdelegate said. "All of us watch television all the time, read the newspapers. We all play with the little charts online too. We know it is virtually impossible."
One delegate said the Clinton campaign is "using Jeremiah Wright to scare white people."
"A full and fair debate about issues and differences and even fights is good," the delegate said. "Mud slinging, personal attacks and lying is never good for any political fight or party. And I see a lot of that coming from one side more than the other."
The delegates said there is little the party or its leaders can do to prevent the current back and forth. But some said they were increasingly in touch with Clinton campaign officials to say their support is in jeopardy.
"Uncommitted delegates can come out and say, 'If you don't stop this now, we won't vote for you,'" one uncommitted superdelegate said.