A former leader of the Democratic Party who last year endorsed Hillary Clinton with lavish praise has switched to Barack Obama — and now predicts that the Clinton "attack dogs" will be after him.
Joe Andrew, who was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1999 with Bill Clinton's blessing, held a news conference Thursday in Indianapolis to announce his support of Obama and to urge other superdelegates to unite behind Obama in order to "heal the rift in our party."
"I have been inspired," Andrew said in a lengthy letter to superdelegates and Indiana voters who will go to the polls next week in a primary that could largely seal the nomination for Obama or give Clinton vital momentum.
"Don't settle for the tried and true and simplistic slogans, but listen to your heart and dare to be inspired," he wrote.
Andrew said he would always be grateful to President Bill Clinton for making him the youngest DNC chairman ever, but said the party did not have to be guided by "blind loyalty." And the long and often bitter Democratic primary battle is helping Republican John McCain, Andrew warned.
"We are doing his work for him and distracting Americans from the issues that really affect all of our lives," he wrote.
The Andrew endorsement came just in time for Obama was faced with a week of controversy over his former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright and slippage in several polls that could concern superdelegates who have yet to commit to a candidate.
In an interview with ABC News, Andrew says he knows what's coming from his friends at the Clinton campaign.
He anticipates the Clinton campaign "will use the same words and the same language to attack me that Republicans used to attack me when I was DNC chair and I was defending Bill Clinton."
"I say this as a longtime participant in old politics," he says. "I've sparred with everyone from Lee Atwater to Karl Rove."
Andrew points out that he was in charge during a rather tumultuous time for the party — during impeachment and the Florida recount.
"The same words will come out of the [Clinton campaign's] surrogates' mouths to attack me that the Republicans used — and that demonstrates the very hypocrisy of the old politics," he says. "We need to unite the party. You can actually be for someone without being against someone else."
On Tuesday, Andrew decided, after a "very personal and as you can imagine somewhat tortuous process," that in his role as former party chair — and because of "an accident of timing where my home state of Indiana may help decide who the next president will be" — that "though it would be easier for me duck and cover, it's better to tell people what's in my heart." Andrew was chair of the Indiana Democratic Party for five years, though he now lives in Washington, D.C.
He did not call the Clintons to tell them about the decision.
"That's sort of the old kabuki theater of old politics, right?" Andrew says. "You call them in advance, they turn on their attack dogs to go after you." He's focused on "try[ing] to convince Hoosiers here in my home state of Indiana to back Obama and just as importantly to try to convince superdelegates."