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Hillary Clinton gets a key backer in North Carolina

April 28, 2008 |  4:10 pm

A bad day just got worse for Barack Obama with word that the popular Democratic governor of North Carolina, Mike Easley (below), will be endorsing Hillary Clinton Tuesday -- one week before the state's May 6Democratic Gov. Mike Easley of North Carolina plans to endorse Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton primary.

Obama has been leading in the polls in North Carolina and the state's demographics still play to his strengths. But the latest flareup featuring the Rev. Jeremiah Wright could undercut what his camp hoped would be an impressive winning margin in the state -- and perhaps turn the contest into a tossup. And Easley's backing of Clinton now gives her the type of institutional political heft that helped her cause so much in Ohio (where Gov. Ted Strickland rallied support for her) and Pennsylvania (where Gov. Ed Rendell spared no effort on her behalf).

Intriguingly, Easley's choice, reported by the Associated Press, puts him at odds with the two leading Democrats vying to replace him (he's prohibited from seeking a third term). The pair -- Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and state Treasurer Richard Moore -- back Obama (which recently spurred a controversial Republican ad).

Easley's potential to help Clinton is explained, in part, by this description of his political savvy ...

in the current edition of the National Journal's Almanac of American Politics:

"Easley has a blue-collar appeal, in part because he looks to popular culture for political insight; he has instructed his pollster to ask respondents whether they watch Fox television’s animated series 'King of the Hill.' Easley is a fan of the show and its main character Hank Hill, a conservative propane salesman in a small Texas town who likes guns and NASCAR. Hill’s character doesn’t identify with a political party, but Easley has said Democrats have had difficulty winning these voters and likes to know whether his proposals appeal to this audience."

This characteristic, combined with his decision to help her during a time of great need for Clinton, should improve his prospects as a potential running mate if she rallies to capture the Democratic nomination.

At the least, as a superdelegate to the party convention, Easley gives her one more tally in that category. The Obama camp neutralized that gain with its own superdelegate pickup today -- Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico announced his support for him. But in terms of impact, Easley's move counts more. After all, the caucuses in Bingaman's home state were held almost three months ago (and were barely lost by Obama).

-- Don Frederick

Photo credit: Associated Press