May 30, 2008 -- The job of uniting the Democratic Party after a long and divisive primary season just got tougher, thanks to yet another Chicago Christian leader who's a longtime friend and associate of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.
Precisely at the time when Obama's camp needs to be building bridges to supporters of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, who's known Obama for about 20 years, took to the pulpit of Obama's church Sunday and ridiculed Clinton, using racially divisive language.
The timing could not be worse.
The Democratic National Committee's rules and bylaws committee will meet Saturday to hash out how to deal with the delegations of Florida and Michigan, which are going to be punished for ignoring party rules and holding early primaries.
Clinton supporters plan on staging protests, insisting that the committee count the votes as cast, even though no candidate campaigned in either state and Obama wasn't on the ballot in Michigan.
Race Shadows Fight for Florida, Michigan
Clinton won the primaries in both Florida and Michigan, and she wants the delegations seated in full.
Obama originally had pushed splitting the delegations, 50-50; though with a near-200 delegate vote lead, he now seems willing to have a portion of the delegations seated in such a way where Clinton nets delegates -- though not enough to affect his likely nomination victory.
But hanging over the Saturday meeting will be the mocking comments made by Pfleger from the same Chicago pulpit that Obama's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, used racially inflammatory language about America to Obama's regret.
Obama was forced to say Thursday he was "deeply disappointed" by Pfleger's pulpit performance in which he mocked Clinton by pretending to bawl after saying she was "entitled" to the nomination because she was white and Bill Clinton's wife.
"There's a black man stealing my show," Pfleger wailed in his mock Clinton voice.
Pfleger quickly followed Obama's statement with his own apology, but the Clinton camp was not mollified.
Clinton Camp Rejects 'Hateful Language'
Clinton's campaign put out a statement decrying the "hateful language" and said that Obama "should have specifically rejected the despicable comments."
"This is going to hurt Obama's efforts right now to bring the party together coming out of the primaries Tuesday," ABC's chief political correspondent George Stephanopoulos said today on "Good Morning America."
"The feelings between Clinton supporters and Obama supporters are rubbed very, very raw. This makes that worse," Stephanopoulos said.
End of the Road
Clinton is expected to easily defeat Obama in Puerto Rico's primary Sunday and has made the South Dakota vote Tuesday surprisingly close. Obama is expected to win the Montana primary, which is also being held Tuesday.
Despite Clinton's determination to battle to the end, it is mathematically improbable for her to overtake Obama in delegates, and party leaders want the campaign to end within days of Tuesday's vote.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and party chairman Howard Dean have indicated they will be pressuring uncommitted superdelegates to end their silence and quickly pick a candidate some time after Tuesday.