February 27th, 2008
04:55 PM ET
10 years ago

Lewis switches from Clinton to Obama

 Rep. John Lewis is now backing Obama.

Rep. John Lewis is now backing Obama.

ATLANTA (CNN) - Georgia Rep. John Lewis, who backed Hillary Clinton in his state's Democratic presidential primary, announced Wednesday that he is switching his support to Barack Obama to reflect the will of his constituents.

"Something is happening in America," the 11-term congressman, a bloodied veteran of the civil rights movement, said in a statement issued by his office.

"There is a movement, there is a spirit, there is an enthusiasm in the hearts and minds of the American people that I have not seen in a long time, since the candidacy of Robert Kennedy."

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, Obama called Lewis "an American hero."

"I am deeply honored to have his support," he added.

Lewis endorsed Clinton, the senator from New York and former first lady, in October. But his central Atlanta district went strongly for Obama, the senator from Illinois, in Georgia's Feb. 5 primary - forcing what he called "a difficult decision" for him.

"As a U.S. representative, it is my role not to try to subdue or suppress the will of the people, but to help it prosper and grow," he said.

Lewis is a member of the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives and a Democratic "superdelegate," one of the elected officials and party leaders who will not be bound by the results of primary elections or caucuses when they vote on the party's presidential nominee at its August convention in Denver. He is also a longtime friend of Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and said he had "a deep and abiding love" for both.

But he added, "I think the candidacy of Sen. Obama represents the beginning of a new movement in American political history that began in the hearts and minds of the people of this nation. And I want to be on the side of the people, on the side of the spirit of history."

Lewis' announcement comes less than a week before next Tuesday's Democratic primaries in Texas and Ohio, which Clinton is banking on to break the Illinois senator's 11-contest winning streak in the Democratic race. The two held a heated debate in Cleveland on Tuesday.

Clinton did not answer reporters' questions about Lewis' reversal at a Wednesday afternoon campaign stop in Zanesville, Ohio. But campaign spokesman Doug Hattaway told CNN that the candidate "respects Congressman Lewis enormously, and she respects his decision."

Lewis declined further comment to reporters as he left the House floor Wednesday, telling them, "I'll let the statement speak for itself."

In announcing his endorsement of Clinton in October, Lewis called her the Democratic candidate "best-prepared to lead this country at a time when we are in desperate need of strong leadership." But despite the support of Lewis and other leading African-American politicians, Obama beat Clinton by better than 2-to-1 in Georgia's primary, with overwhelming support from black voters.

Lewis' fellow Georgian, Rep. David Scott, has told news outlets he would support Obama in Denver rather than go against the will of voters in his suburban Atlanta district.

The Lewis endorsement follows Tuesday's endorsement of the Illinois senator by former Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd, who called for the party to unite "behind a candidacy that expresses the aspirations, the hopes, the ambitions of millions and millions of Americans."

Dodd warned that Democrats are in danger of damaging their fortunes in November with a divisive campaign, but said he is not suggesting Clinton should drop out of the race. The Connecticut senator dropped his presidential bid after the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3.

Obama currently leads Clinton in the number of convention delegates won in the Democratic contests to date, 1,184 to 1,031, according to the latest CNN estimates. Clinton has the support of more superdelegates, however, leading Obama 237-181, according to CNN's count.

- CNN's Sasha Johnson, Candy Crowley, and Alex Mooney contributed to this report

soundoff (458 Responses)
  1. Sally

    To Praetorian, Ft. Myers, FL,
    That was a very ignorant staement for you to make. How many black senators have supported while candataers for so may years? Too many to name! Please stop it with your racist views.

    February 27, 2008 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  2. Laurie, Vancouver, Canada

    Superdelegates are supposed to cast their vote on the basis of superior knowledge of the candidates abilities and policies, not accordiing to the preferences of their constitutents.... constituents get their own chance to have a say in the primaries. Let's be realistic, this is a decision based on race, self-interest, and most probably a healthy dose of misogyny for good measure.

    February 27, 2008 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  3. Ian

    Obama can do no wrong, since Obama hasnt done anything yet.
    Why not vote for Larry down in Accounting?
    He hasnt been in politics too long either.

    February 27, 2008 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  4. Earl, Oregon

    What a ditz. Another teenybopper going goo-goo-gaa-gaa over the "cool" guy. The reality is his support means nothing because it's not solid. He's acting like a typical highschool groupie and he'll switch again after Hillary takes the lead in delegates.

    I'm ashamed that people like him hold office in our country.

    February 27, 2008 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  5. the messenger

    Even in the unlikely event that Clinton wins Texas/Ohio next week, she's got to do it by something like 20 pts to pull even. Since this is highly unlikely, who's going to tell her its over? She doesn't seem willing/able to come to that realization herself... Thats one messenger I don't think I'd like to be.

    February 27, 2008 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  6. Peter Kavanagh

    You can bet that these endorsements and the rest to come this week are the direct result of Hillery going nuts on the weekend . I mean that was really strange on Sat. and Sun. I bet you won't see Gov. Strictland at any more events .

    February 27, 2008 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  7. David

    Of course he switched, he's African American. Guess he never received the first memo that was sent out by Barack and Oprah.

    February 27, 2008 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  8. obama 08

    John Lewis' state of Georgia voted overwhelmingly for Obama. He did the right thing.

    February 27, 2008 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  9. Candy

    it is very clear that this election is based on RACE, especially for part of the blacks. after all they forgot how much the Clintons helped them.

    February 27, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  10. Anna

    Thank you Redp Lewis!!!

    GO Home Hillary. PLEASE!!!!

    OBAMA 08!!!

    February 27, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  11. Di

    Black on Black....what would you expect!!!

    I am with you Proud Californian!!!

    February 27, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  12. terry

    Hey, Wayne. Get ready to vote McCain buddy.

    February 27, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  13. E Popp

    Hillary, stand firm until August. Let's let the superdelegates get together in Denver, and then the pros can make the right decision. Face it, politics is a profession, the work gets done by people in the know, and people with IOU's owed and owed to. You Americans want to stay naive and simplistic, and that's how Obama is treating you.

    February 27, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  14. Kenneth

    Keep in mind, Lewis was probably under a lot of pressure from his mostly African-American constituency to throw his support behind Obama. He may be a Clinton backer, but you can't get re-elected when you blatantly go against the will of the citizens you represent. So he has to eat his words a little: big deal. Better that than following Hillary into political oblivion. Everyone learn a lesson from this: it is never too late to get it right.

    OBAMA 08

    February 27, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  15. Disappointed, FL

    Man... I'm hoping for another Impeached Clinton!!!

    February 27, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  16. TheTruthHurts

    Bottom Line. His constituency led to this decision. I'm sure he likes both candidates, but he realizes and SAID, Obama has tapped into something transformational that Hillary simply can't.

    No one is really denying this. Their comeback is that Obama is just smoke and mirrors and no substance. Hillary knows that's not true and when in a debate, she can't say otherwise. It's insulting to even imply and for those doubters, vist Obama's website and check his policy positions (which most already acknowledge are similar).

    Face it, on the issues their similar, on energy and fight it's a draw. On leadership and charisma, he kills her. Most importantly, on the ability to get Americans to step up and do what is necessary, he is the ONLY candidate positioned to do this. PERIOD. You all know it and I haven't seen ANY arguments to the contrary.

    February 27, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  17. Obamacrat

    Another superdelegate lost. Time to turn up the volume on the whole "we cannot disenfranchise Florida and Michigan voters" arguement. Hillary will need those delegates now more than ever.

    February 27, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  18. JohnS

    This endorsement has nothing to do with RACE. Why blame so many others but those running the Hillary campaign!

    It's the media against Hillary
    It's the Clinton haters against Hillary
    It's the lovers of Monica Lewinsky against Hillary
    It's the problem of being given the FISRT question each time.
    It's becuase Obama copies Hillary's answers
    It's because of that period of the month
    It's because of not "meeting me in Ohio earlier for the debate."
    It's because of not finding time to file my taxes

    When is this ever going to stop? I care less about the positions of these candidates. I am interested in leadership that;

    will restore the values and image of the U.S. to teh world
    will make me feel proud at home and abroad
    will give me real HOPE about the challenges that lie ahead
    will BRING people together to solve real problems!!!

    February 27, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  19. bond

    Wow, what a concept. A politician listening to his constituency, as it should be. The people have spoken loud and clear for Obama.

    February 27, 2008 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  20. B.K.Armstrong

    As an African-American man,I appreciate the sacrifice of John Lewis during the civil rights movement.But the bandwagon is FULL!!!!!!
    It's time to focus on the White House- Beat McCain!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 27, 2008 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  21. Anthony

    You know that saying about rats jumping off a ship....yeah.

    February 27, 2008 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  22. Recognize

    Karen – You are so far off the reservation that it's scary. How is Obama a liar? Please site examples. He has been more then accountable on his actions or mishaps, unlike Hillary. Your ignorance shows when you say "I bet Obama will be sworn on Koran book but not the bible". First of all, it's Quran, and if you'd actually bother to educate yourself, you would know that Obama was sworn into the Senate with the Holy Bible.

    Please wake up, do some homework, and get over your racist self. People like you is why the democratic party is so divided.

    P.S. – Ignorance is bliss.

    February 27, 2008 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  23. S.Friedman, Pacific Palisades,CA

    Another 'Profiles in Courage' chapter, this time for Rep. Lewis.

    February 27, 2008 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  24. Mike, Atlanta GA

    I live in ATL, in Lewis' district. Because he lacks integrity and gives in to pressure, how can I expect him to stand up for me. I will be voting against him in future elections.

    February 27, 2008 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  25. Sally

    To Praetorian, Ft. Myers, FL,
    That was a very ignorant statement for you to make. How many black senators have supported white candidates for so may years? Too many to name! Please stop it with your racist views.

    February 27, 2008 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
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