May 1, 2008 — -- 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."
In his letter to superdelegates, Andrews urges them "to come together after this Tuesday's primary to heal wounds and unite us around a single nominee. While I was hopeful that a long, contested primary season would invigorate our Party, the polls show that the tone and temperature of the race is now hurting us. John McCain, without doing much of anything, is now competitive against both of our remaining candidates."
"The math for this is simple," Andrew tells ABC News. "A vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote to continue this process."
But does he just want to end this race or does he think Obama would be the better president?
"Barack Obama would be the better president," Andrew says.
The Clinton campaign had no direct comment on Andrew's announcement.
"We have seen record turnout in state after state because Democrats are excited and enthusiastic about this primary process," said Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson. "On Tuesday Hoosiers will have their turn to come out in record numbers and support their candidate. We support that Democratic process and think that every American should be able to weigh in and support the candidate of his or her own choosing."
Andrew says he was inspired not just by "the unbelievable energy and excitement generated by the Obama campaign" but because of the way Obama dealt with two political problems this week — the continued controversy involving his relationship with Wright, and Obama's refusal to support a gas tax holiday, unlike his competitors.
"I helped push for a gas tax vacation in Indiana," Andrew says, "I know how politically beneficial it can be. I also know it's not the right thing to do for the economy and for the environment. It's great politics, but it's bad policy." It will be bad for the economy and the environment and only give $28 and half a tank of gas for the average family, he says.
Now 48, Andrew was in 1999 the youngest DNC chair ever elected, and he says "I am not only unbelievably grateful, I am the first to say Bill Clinton will go down in history as one of our greatest presidents. I remember in 1992, jumping on the campaign, when Bill Clinton brought out massive crowds of young people and articulated a new way of looking at politics. Obama is the Bill Clinton of 2008."
The Andrew endorsement came after a week of controversy over Wright's comments and a new poll that shows Obama's support slipping and possibly vulnerable against McCain if he is the nominee in November.
A new Quinnipiac poll is likely to be incorporated into Clinton's talking points with uncommitted superdelegates, who are becoming increasingly antsy about how Obama would stack up in a national contest against McCain.
The survey shows Clinton beating McCain in Ohio and Florida, states that were crucial to Democratic losses in the last two presidential elections. McCain and Obama are in a dead heat in both states, according to the Quinnipiac poll.
Clinton and Obama both defeat McCain in Pennsylvania in the survey.
A month ago, national polls showed Obama with a five-point lead over McCain should they be matched up in the general election. Now a New York Times/CBS poll shows they are in a statistical dead heat, with each candidate receiving 45 percent support of those polled.
The New York Times/CBS poll had more bad news for Obama . It shows Obama remains the choice of Democrats – 46 percent support him versus 38 percent for Clinton — but his aura of inevitability has been skunked.
The same poll found that unfavorable views of Obama have gone up from 24 to 34 percent in the last month.
Obama acknowledged that the Wright controversy and comments Obama made recently in San Francisco in which he called blue-collar voters "bitter" had hurt him in the polls.
"We've had two months. We had the Reverend Wright controversy and the comments in San Francisco," Obama said Thursday on NBC's "Today Show."
Obama's wife Michelle would not say that Wright had betrayed the senator and called on voters to get over the controversy.
"Voters are tired of this. They want to move beyond these divisions," she said on Thursday's "Today Show" interview. "We have got to move forward."
Obama leads in the delegate count overall, but he still trails Clinton in the superdelegate count. About 230 superdelegates remain undecided.
But in another twist, an NBC/Wall Street Journal found that more people found McCain's ties to President Bush more of a concern than Obama's ties to Wright.
This wild political ride seems destined to keep rolling.