AUSTIN — Barack Obama’s presidential campaign said Friday that Hillary Clinton, fearing defeat in a state she badly needs to win, is trying to undermine confidence in Texas' delegate-selection process by raising the specter of a chaotic election night.
Clinton aides shot back that Obama was “fanning the distortion” of their legitimate concerns about the state’s two-step voting process, which entails both a primary election and a little understood caucus.
Clinton’s top Texas adviser, Garry Mauro, repeated the campaign’s assertion that Clinton had no intention of suing the party over its caucus rules. That scenario had been raised in a letter from the Texas Democratci Party that warned of an “imminent” lawsuit.
“Nobody ever raised the idea of suing,’’ said Mauro, blaming the flap on the Obama campaign. “When they feel a race is close they distort.’’
Mauro acknowledged, however, that the Clinton campaign had raised objections about the way caucus results will be reported Tuesday but said the former first lady is not trying to stop the party from doing it.
Obama supporters said Clinton has sought to prevent the immediate reporting of the results of the caucuses, which are held after the polls close. There are 67 delegates up for grabs in the caucuses; 128 will be selected by voting in the primary. The remainder of Texas' 228 delegates are so-called superdelegates who can vote for whichever candidate they choose.
“I think they’re afraid of what the caucus results might be,’’ said Obama campaign strategist Steve Hildebrand. “This is the game they play on the eve of every election . . . they like to suggest that the process is unfair to her.’’
Clinton supporters have complained that caucuses give the better organized Obama an unfair advantage; of the 13 Democratic caucuses held so far, Clinton has won just two, Obama 11, most by huge margins.
The notion of a Clinton challenge to the caucus procedures came up during conferences calls among the campaigns and the Texas Democratic Party. Concerned that a lawsuit was in the works, Democratic Party lawyer Chad Dunn fired off a letter to both campaigns.
“It has been brought to my attention that one or both of your campaigns may already be planning or intending to pursue litigation against the Texas Democratic Party,’’ Dunn wrote. “Such action could prove to be a tragedy for a reinvigorated Democratic process.’’
Party officials said that the threats were coming from the Clinton campaign. After the letter was made public, Clinton political director Guy Cecil told the Associated Press he wanted the procedures put in writing and that the campaign might challenge them.
"We want to see the results in writing, and we reserve the right to challenge something if we don't believe it reflects something that was discussed on the call," he was quoted as saying.
Speaking to reporters Friday, Hildebrand, the Obama strategist, accused the Clinton campaign of “raising the specter of being able to challenge, legally or otherwise, any aspect of the caucus contest here.’’
“We expect to play by those rules that have been set by the Texas Democratic Party,’’ he said. “We have stated no intention to challenge any aspect of it.’’
State Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, leader of the Democrats in the state House of Representatives, accused the Clinton campaign of trying to “stoke fears or promote cyncism” by raising questions about a process that has been a feature of the presidential nomination process in Texas for decades.
“If you’re losing at half time, you don’t try to unplug the scoreboard,’’ Dunnam said.
The law requires the caucus results to be reported within three days, but the intense interest in the results prompted the Texas Democratic Party to invest $60,000 in a voluntary reporting system so that the media and public would have an idea about how the caucus tallies were breaking.
Obama officials see no problem with it. But Mauro, the Texas Clinton adviser, said the system would produce “flimsy, half-baked results.’’ Still, Mauro said there were no plans to challenge the legality of the voluntary reporting system.