Democrats Wary Of Intraparty Friction As Primaries Wrap

This story was written by Neha Jaganathan, Daily Bruin
Recent events in the race for president have seen the leading candidates from both parties involved in controversies, some of which will likely have lasting impacts on their candidacies.

Presumed Republican candidate Sen. John McCain recently completed a trip to several countries, and will begin a "biography" tour in the U.S. this week, according to several news sources.

During a visit to the Middle East, McCain was scrutinized for making incorrect statements which confused the two religious sects, the Sunnis and the Shiites, said Bruce Cain, executive director at the UC Washington Center and professor of political science at UC Berkeley.

McCain made the mistake of saying that a largely Shiite Iran was aiding the Sunni group al-Qaida, when in fact Iran is most likely aiding other Shiite extremist groups.

Cain added that these blunders, coupled with other factors, are likely hurting McCain at a time when he could otherwise benefit from the heated Democratic primaries.

But others disagree. The overall impact of the bitter Democratic primaries is actually benefiting McCain because it shifts the focus of Democratic attacks away from him, said Mark Sawyer, associate professor of political science and African American studies.

In the Democratic race, front-runner Sen. Barack Obama is currently leading Sen. Hillary Clinton by a large margin that appears nearly impossible to beat, political experts say.

Clinton will have to win upcoming primaries, such as those in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Kentucky, by a significant margin in order to secure the nomination, Cain said.

Cain said this is because most unpledged superdelegates are likely to cast their vote based on which candidate demonstrates more popular support.

But Cain added that recent polls from states such as Pennsylvania and Indiana indicate that a significant Clinton victory is unlikely.

Polls have also indicated that both Clinton and Obama are gaining their body of support from the demographic groups which supported each candidate in previous primaries, another sign that drastic changes in the current trend of the election are unlikely, Sawyer said.

Clinton has actually lost support in recent weeks, which is unusual given Obama's recent Rev. Wright controversy, Cain said.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ, of which Obama was also a member, was recently scrutinized for making what many consider racist and anti-American remarks.

According to CNN, there were several articles published in the church's bulletin which made inflammatory statements such as: "What the Zionist Jews did to the Palestinians is worse than what the Nazis did to the Jews."

Cain said despite being connected to Wright, Obama was able to retain support because he explained his thinking well and he himself did not make racist remarks.

Although the Rev. Wright scandal may have allowed Sen. Clinton to gain a little, her support has actually been diminishing drastically, and can be attributed to negative campaigning, according to political experts.

Sawyer said he believes Clinton's negative campaigning has decreased her support among voters and generally has the effect of decreasing support for the candidate.

"This is the last ditch effort," Sawyer said.

Additionally, Clinton's recent exaggeration of her involvement of Bosnian negotiations has also hurt her popularity, Cain said.

During a recent speech, Clinton described escaping sniper fire when arriving in Bosnia but later images surfaced of her calmly receiving a bouquet of flowers as she stepped off the plane, contrary to her original statements, Cain said.

But both Cain and Sawyer also agreed negative campaigning may be the only strategy for Clinton to win in the upcoming primaies.

"Going negative helped her win in Texas but seems to have increased her negative perception. She's got to make some hard choices about whether to attack him more effectively ... and if she does that, it's a gamble," Cain said.

Both the margin of Obama's current lead over Clinton and poll results for future primaries are arguments cited by those who have publicly asked Clinton to quit the race, Cain said.

But many of these attacks have come from Obama supporters such as Sen. Chris Dodd, said Teddy Schwartz, president of Bruins for Hillary.

"If you look at the Clinton campaign, everyone is still working very hard, (and is) very energetic," Schwartz said.

But Cain said most attacks against Clinton are actually from impartial voters who are concerned that a bitter race will harm the chances of the Democrats winning in November.

"I think the key is if (the race is) personal. If you get more of the bitter personal attacks we've seen in the previous months, whether it's the TV ads or racist or gender discriminatory comments ... that's just not going to help the Democratic Party," Cain said.
© 2008 Daily Bruin via U-WIRE