DENVER — With polls finding the presidential race tied as Democrats prepared to start their national convention Monday, Barack Obama's campaign sought to reassure party members irritated that he didn't pick Hillary Clinton as his running mate and rival John McCain worked to exploit those tensions.
While he pondered his own choice of a running mate, McCain's camp rushed out a new TV ad Sunday claiming that Obama punished Clinton for criticizing him during their long and often heated primary battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The ad then says that Obama deliberately slighted Clinton by passing over her to pick Delaware Sen. Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate.
"Who won millions of votes but isn't on the ticket?" the ad says. "Why? For speaking the truth."
Obama aides fanned out to try to tamp down any lingering anger or dissent among Clinton fans that might threaten party unity at the carefully scripted-for-television four-day convention.
Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, stressed that Clinton endorsed the Biden pick, apparently hoping that would sway any disgruntled Clinton supporters.
"He felt that Senator Biden would be the best fit for him at this time," Axelrod said on ABC's This Week program.
"And I was pleased that Senator Clinton gave such a robust endorsement to Senator Biden as the nominee yesterday . . . . I think it was a good choice. I think everybody recognizes it."
Axelrod also said that Obama respects Clinton and will listen to her advice during the campaign.
"He has a high regard for Senator Clinton. She's going to be an important voice in this campaign. She's going to be an important voice in moving this country forward in the next administration."
Aides revealed that Obama spoke by telephone last week with both Hillary and Bill Clinton, though they wouldn't reveal specifics.
The skirmish between Obama and McCain came as the two major parties prepared to start back-to-back conventions that will set the stage for a hard-fought fall campaign.
A new Gallup tracking poll released Sunday found Obama and McCain tied, each with the support of 45 percent of registered voters. Gallup said the immediate reaction to Obama's choice of Biden was "rather unenthusiastic" and that Obama "received no immediate benefit" in interviews conducted nationwide on Saturday.
Both of the major party presidential candidates had low-key days Sunday as they readied themselves for the conventions.
Obama traveled to Eau Claire, Wisc., attending a Lutheran church service, where he heard a Gospel stressing humility, and then holding a small rally.
He told the audience of about 300 that by the end of the convention, after he and his wife speak, Americans who are unsure about him will conclude, "He's pretty much like us."
He suggested that the convention narrative would show the Obamas as products of middle-class backgrounds who've had to worry about things such as paying off their student loans and paying for child care.
"I'm very excited about the convention," Obama told reporters as he headed back home to Chicago.
"I'm still tooling around with my speech a little bit. It may not be as good as the other headliners the first three nights but hopefully it will make clear the choice the American people are going to make in November."
McCain spent the day at home in Arizona weighing his own running mate choice, which he's likely to unveil next weekend.
He had no public events scheduled Sunday. But in an interview aired on CBS, McCain praised Obama's selection of Biden.
"I think he's a good selection," McCain said. "Joe and I have been friends for many, many years, and we know each other very well, and so I think (Obama's) made a very wise selection."
(Thomma reported from Denver, Talev from Eau Claire and Chicago.)
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