With polls finding the presidential race tied as Democrats prepared to start their national convention today, Barack Obama's campaign sought to reassure party members irritated that he didn't pick Hillary Clinton as his running mate and rival John McCain worked to exploit those tensions.
While he pondered his own choice of a running mate, McCain's camp rushed out a new TV ad Sunday claiming that Obama punished Clinton for criticizing him during their long and often heated primary battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The ad then says that Obama deliberately slighted Clinton by passing over her to pick Delaware Sen. Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate.
“Who won millions of votes but isn't on the ticket?” the ad says. “Why? For speaking the truth.”
Obama aides fanned out to try to tamp down any lingering anger or dissent among Clinton fans that might threaten party unity at the carefully scripted-for-television four-day convention.
Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, stressed that Clinton endorsed the Biden pick, apparently hoping that would sway any disgruntled Clinton supporters.
“He felt that Senator Biden would be the best fit for him at this time,” Axelrod said on ABC's “This Week” program.
Axelrod also said that Obama respects Clinton and will listen to her advice during the campaign.
“He has a high regard for Senator Clinton. She's going to be an important voice in this campaign. She's going to be an important voice in moving this country forward in the next administration.”
Aides revealed that Obama spoke by telephone last week with both Hillary and Bill Clinton, though they wouldn't reveal specifics.
The skirmish between Obama and McCain came as the two major parties prepared to start back-to-back conventions that will set the stage for a hard-fought fall campaign.
A new Gallup tracking poll released Sunday found Obama and McCain tied, each with the support of 45 percent of registered voters. Gallup said the immediate reaction to Obama's choice of Biden was “rather unenthusiastic” and that Obama “received no immediate benefit” in interviews conducted nationwide on Saturday.
Both of the major party presidential candidates had low-key days Sunday as they readied themselves for the conventions.