Backing Obama makes McCaskill first woman senator to oppose Clinton
Barack Obama has picked up another endorsemen from Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, following earlier endorsements this week from the likes of John Kerry, Tim Johnson, Ben Nelson, and Janet Napolitano. Photo by Wiley Price

On Sunday, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) made her contribution to the historic nature of the Barack Obama campaign for U.S. president. She became the first woman senator to endorse U.S. Senator Obama (D-Ill.) over U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).

There are nine women Democrats serving in the U.S. Senate, including Clinton and McCaskill. Previously, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan had endorsed Clinton.

Four other women - U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer of California, U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and U.S. Senator Patty Murray of Washington - have not endorsed in the primary.

McCaskill told the American on Tuesday that she would not work in particular on swaying any of these women to the Obama platform. At this late date, she said, “I doubt there will be any more high-ranking national endorsements announced.”

She said a more critical and promising support base for growing the Obama campaign, particularly in Missouri, is the black clergy. “We need African-American ministers to step up here,” McCaskill told the American.

U.S. Representative Wm. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) said McCaskill’s endorsement is “a big boost for Barack.”

He said that her background - she was born in Rolla and served as a prosecutor and state legislator based in Kansas City - means she “will really help with Kansas City and out-state Missouri.”

Of course, McCaskill’s support may also sway women in Missouri, white and black, who are drawn to Obama’s message but feel compelled by conscience to vote for a strong woman candidate like Clinton. This makes her support of Obama a politically risky one, by some measures, since it could alienate some of the women (and donors) who worked to elect her.

With powerful organizations like EMILY’s List - with its mission to “elect pro-choice Democratic women to office” - in play, there is considerable political pressure upon women Democrats to support other viable women candidates.

McCaskill - the first woman from Missouri ever elected to the U.S. Senate - said she supports Obama over his strong woman rival because he is the best candidate for this precise historical moment.

“I get the force and urgency of now,” McCaskill said Sunday morning in a conference call with local, state and national media.

“I feel it in my bones.”

EMILY’s List - which claims the election of all of these women senators as campaign victories - has, of course, endorsed Clinton. The lead image of its website, www.emilyslist.org, is a photograph of Clinton smiling with her daughter Chelsea.

McCaskill credited “the fierce urgency” of her own 18-year-old daughter, thereby aligning her support with the powerful youth movement that has helped to make Obama a strong contender.

“I think Claire followed her heart, which is a good thing,” said state Representative Maria Chappelle-Nadal (D-72nd District), whose election EMILY’s List also claims as a victory.

McCaskill has shown considerable skill and savvy as a freshman senator. As such, her endorsement also is based in the battles for consensus and policy positions that define the professional life of a U.S. senator.

“I have tried to stake a tent in the middle ground, and with some frequency I ran into Barack Obama there,” McCaskill said on the conference call. She said she admired his unique abilities to “bring people together in Washington and make smart, strategic decisions - yet never abandon his principles.”

McCaskill said she was struck with Obama’s ability as a legislator from her earliest days in the Congress, when he reached out to the entire freshman class in the Senate for help in passing congressional ethics reform legislation. Obama since has claimed passage of the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007 and the Lobbying Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007 as his key legislative accomplishments.

Clinton has tried to belittle those accomplishments on the campaign trail. McCaskill alluded to the often negative nature of the Clinton campaign, saying Obama doesn’t rely on “trying to make the other guy look bad” in wooing voters.

“One time in a generation a person comes along, and you have to grab that opportunity,” McCaskill said of Obama.

“At this moment in history, we need to look forward with optimism and hope.”

The two Missouri Democrats who represent the St. Louis area in Congress, Clay and U.S. Representative Russ Carnahan, both endorsed Obama early in the primary.

On Tuesday, Clinton won an essentially meaningless primary in Michigan. Michigan moved up the date of its primary, despite opposition and eventual penalties from the Democratic National Committee. Obama and John Edwards pulled their names from the ballot in the Michigan Primary and urged their supporters to vote for Uncommitted.

With 100 percent of the vote counted, nearly 40 percent of voters -

236,723 - had chosen uncommitted. Clinton got about 55 percent of the vote.

Obama won the Iowa Caucus, and Clinton won the New Hampshire Primary. The Missouri Primary is February 5 and the General Election is November 4.

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