State News

Clinton: Easley's endorsement 'politically very meaningful'

Posted April 29, 2008 6:49 a.m. EDT
Updated April 29, 2008 9:21 p.m. EDT

— Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton characterized Gov. Mike Easley's endorsement of her Tuesday as "politically very meaningful."

Easley decided to endorse Clinton, lending his support to her underdog effort to beat Sen. Barack Obama in the state's May 6 primary.

"Hillary Clinton gets it. She gets it. It’s time for somebody to be in the White House who knows what challenges we face in this country," Easley said.

Before the announcement, Easley and Clinton walked around North Carolina State University.

"I think it's a tremendous boost to the campaign and its a reaffirmation of the momentum that we have in the state and a reaffirmation of Sen. Clinton's message and its importance ... to the people of North Carolina," Tom Hendrickson, an adviser to Clinton in North Carolina, told The Associated Press.

Easley is a Democratic super-delegate who has served as the state's governor for two terms. His decision came despite several polls showing the New York senator trails Obama in North Carolina as they compete for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Elon University Poll Director Hunter Bacot said the endorsement may help move Clinton's numbers a few percentage points, but will likely only serve to solidify support among conservative Democrats such as Easley.

"I think it will help her attract the type of voters she's been attracting throughout her campaign – usually the moderate to lower-income white vote, particularly in more rural areas," Bacot said. "She's been strong in that demographic throughout."

Like almost all the state's super-delegates, Easley had initially supported former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards during his second bid for the White House. He becomes just the second super-delegate from North Carolina to endorse Clinton, while six of the state's 17 super-delegates have pledged to support Obama.

While he is not a super-delegate, Edwards remains the biggest prize among North Carolina Democrats, Bacot said. Since leaving the race in January, Edwards has remained silent on which of his two former rivals he plans to support.

A former state attorney general, Easley has focused largely on education programs during his eight-year tenure. He's called on both of the presidential candidates to talk more about the issue.

"Gov. Easley understands that education and a good economy are intertwined, and he understands that more than anyone else in the country," Hendrickson said.

Two week ago, Easley wrote a note to Obama imploring the Illinois senator to take part in a debate that would have taken place Sunday in Raleigh. Obama declined, saying he wasn't sure it would fit with his schedule, and the state Democratic Party later abandoned the debate plans.