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Robert Reich joins Bill Richardson in endorsing Barack Obama

April 18, 2008 |  2:33 pm

Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's Labor secretary, did as anticipated earlier this afternoon and announced his endorsement of Barack Obama -- and notably not his friend of 40 years, Hillary Clinton. Our colleague Mark Z. Barabak just got off the phone with Reich, who, like former Energy secretary and current Obama backer Bill Richardson, reported that it was not an easy decision.

"I've been very torn, frankly," Reich said, speaking slowly, measuring his words, over the phone from his office at UC Berkeley, where he teaches. "I do feel some loyalty to the Clintons because I've known them for so long. ... I did not plan to endorse. I wanted to stay out of the whole endorsement racket. But my conscience wouldn't let me stay silent after this latest round of mudslinging."

Like Richardson, part of the decision was a reaction to the Clinton campaign itself. Barabak, whose story will be posted on the website later today, counts Reich as the fifth former Clinton Cabinet member to endorse Obama, including  Bill Daley (Commerce), Federico Pena (Energy and Transportation) and Norman Mineta (Transportation).

"I've known the Clintons for a very long time, and it seemed unnecessary and inappropriate to endorse Obama. But this past week has been a tipping point for me." Cites the negativity of Clinton campaign ads and seizing on 'bitter.' "The negative ads coming out of the Clinton camp were just appalling at a time when our nation is facing such huge challenges.

"To focus on whether Obama should have used the word 'bitter' when he talked about the plight of many in Pennsylvania and to resurrect the old Republicans themes of guns and religion and to call Obama elistist, quote-unquote, just put me over the edge. I could no longer sit back and be silent. I had to say what I believed."

Reich said he last spoke to Hillary Clinton about a year ago, and Bill Clinton longer ago than that. As a courtesy, he said he tried to call them both Thursday night but couldn't get through. "I used the numbers that I have. I'm not privy to their private cellphone. I made an effort to get through. I thought the decent thing was to leave messages."

He said he didn't notify the Obama campaign beforehand. "It's purely a matter of personal principle. I just had enough."

-- Scott Martelle

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