Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday downplayed the weighty endorsements won by her chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, saying a candidate’s supporters don’t define the contest.
Speaking to Arizona reporters by phone between appearances in Massachusetts and Connecticut, Clinton said what matters is who’s most qualified to be president.
“We’re all proud of the people we have endorsing us,” she said. “At the end of the day, this is a contest not among our endorsers but among us as individuals.”
“I believe that I have the experience we need to make the changes we need in America.”
Over the past two days, Sen. Barack Obama has grabbed the endorsements of Sen. Edward Kennedy and his niece Caroline Kennedy, as well as author and former President Clinton admirer Toni Morrison.
As Super Tuesday looms and the campaigns are spread thin stumping from California to New Jersey, Clinton and Obama are still finding time and money to spend in Arizona, which holds a measly 56 delegates among the nearly 1,700 at stake in 24 contests Feb. 5.
Obama, coming off Saturday’s landslide primary victory in South Carolina, will appear at a rally Wednesday at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, his campaign confirmed late Monday.
Bill Clinton is scheduled to headline a fundraiser Thursday at the home of Jim Pederson, former state Democratic Party chairman and a member of Sen. Clinton’s steering committee, and will follow that with a public event. Details are still being worked out.
During her brief phone interview, Clinton said she’s confident she can win Arizona’s Feb. 5 presidential preference election, though a recent poll showed Obama closing the gap. “I don’t pay much attention to polls,” she said. “I certainly think the country learned that in New Hampshire,” where she won the primary though polls had showed her behind.
But she added that polls also show her leading in “most of the Super Tuesday states.”
“I’m very encouraged and supported by the broad base that I have in Arizona,” Clinton said.
Arizona supporters made 100,000 phone calls over the weekend at more than 30 house parties on her behalf, she said.
Clinton stopped in the Valley last week, and her campaign was hopeful she could visit southern Arizona before next Tuesday. Obama last appeared in Arizona on Oct. 19 at Arizona State University.
Clinton said she was eager to hear what President Bush would offer in his final State of the Union address Monday.
“I think many of us are relieved that we’re finally moving to the end of the Bush presidency,” she said.
“The state of a lot of people’s homes is one of anxiety,” she said. “I hope that the president will take more aggressive steps that he has so far been unwilling to do.”
She briefly outlined her economic plan, including a freeze on mortgage interest rates and a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures.
Republican National Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay fired back. “After having lost a major primary and endorsement,” Lindsay said in an e-mail, “it’s telling that Senator Clinton has reverted to her customary partisan attacks and accusations.”
At a state Capitol news conference Monday, Obama supporters said Democrats have their best chance of gaining control of the state House in more than 40 years if the Illinois senator heads the ticket.
Rep. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said Obama has a broader appeal to moderate Republicans and independents than Clinton.
But Clinton said that hasn’t been the case in New York, where she’s easily won two Senate contests. “Every time I’ve been on the ticket I’ve brought more Democrats with me into Congress and to the state Legislature,” Clinton said. “That’s what I intend to do in Arizona and elsewhere.”
Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services and Tribune writer Paul Giblin contributed to this report.