CHICAGO, May 24 (Reuters) - Democrat Barack Obama accused rival Hillary Clinton on Saturday of “stirring up” a controversy over the disqualified Florida primary election because it was her last hope of winning their party’s presidential nomination.
Obama, an Illinois senator, is leading Clinton, a New York senator, in delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination to face Republican John McCain in the November election. The delegates are awarded in state nominating contests that kicked off in January.
Florida’s and Michigan’s delegates were stripped of their rights to be seated at the party’s August convention -- when the nominee is formally chosen -- because their contests were held too early in the year, in breach of party rules.
Clinton, who won both contests, has long argued the delegates should be seated and awarded based on the popular vote. She made a trip to Florida this week to press her case.
“The Clinton campaign has been stirring this up for fairly transparent reasons,” Obama told reporters on the plane from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Chicago, adding she had not done so earlier in the race when she did not need the delegates to win.
“Let’s not ... pretend that we don’t know what’s going on. I mean this is, from their perspective, their last slender hope to make arguments about how they can win, and I understand that,” Obama said.
Neither Clinton nor Obama campaigned in either state before the primary elections, and the Illinois senator removed his name from the Michigan ballot. Obama spent three days campaigning in Florida this week.
A party committee will meet next Saturday to seek a resolution to the conflict. Obama said he wanted the delegates seated and brushed off arguments that voter anger at his less aggressive role in resolving the issue would cause lasting resentment among Democratic voters in Florida, a battleground state in November’s general election.
“I think that anger will go away once it’s resolved,” he said, questioning whether those who were upset were only Clinton supporters or other voters as well.
“I want to make the Florida delegates seated. And once they’re seated, then I think this is going to be a story that nobody’s thinking about come August.”
Obama has not called for Clinton to drop out of the race and has been careful to avoid alienating her supporters.
He said on Saturday he would need to “pivot quickly” in June, if he obtains the number of delegates to secure the nomination, to engage in a search for a vice presidential running mate.
“I think we’ll have ample time, should I be the nominee, to engage in that process.” (Editing by Peter Cooney) (firstname.lastname@example.org; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com))