By Scott Helman, Globe Staff
Senator Barack Obama today ridiculed recent suggestions by Hillary Clinton and her top supporters that he might make a good running mate as part of a so-called Democratic dream team for the general election.
For starters, Obama said, he has won twice as many states as Clinton, secured the most delegates, and captured a larger share of the overall popular vote to date.
"If I was in second place right now, I'd understand it," he said at a town hall meeting in Mississippi, where 33 delegates are at stake in Tuesday's primary. "But I'm in first place right now."
Obama, arguing that Clinton's campaign was trying to "hoodwink" voters into casting ballots for her, said it made no sense for the New York senator and her backers, after weeks of trying to portray him as unprepared to be commander-in-chief, to suddenly be talking him up for a role that would put him one heartbeat away from the presidency.
"I don't understand. If I'm not ready, how is it that you think that I should be such a great vice president?" Obama asked supporters in Columbus, Miss. "You can't say that he's not ready on day one -- unless he's willing to be your vice president, then he's ready on day one."
Clinton and Obama have both been asked for months -- by voters, by journalists, and by panelists in debates -- whether they would consider their rival as a running mate should they win the nomination. They tended to answer the same way, saying it would be "presumptuous" to discuss it while the race was still raging.
But in the past few weeks, Clinton and her surrogates have begun signaling that they would be open to Obama as a No. 2, the idea being that Obama would bring to the ticket the excitement about his candidacy, and that he would have a chance to apprentice under the more experienced Clinton in the White House.
Campaigning in Mississippi last week, Clinton herself said, "I've had people say, 'Well I wish I could vote for both of you. Well, that might be possible some day. But first I need your vote on Tuesday." Former president Bill Clinton, campaigning in the state over the weekend, said a Clinton-Obama pairing would be "an almost unstoppable force." And Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, an integral Clinton supporter in a state that holds a key primary on April 22, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, "It would be a great ticket."
On a conference call with reporters today, Hillary Clinton's communications director, Howard Wolfson, seemed to suggest to that while Obama was not quite yet vice-presidential material, he might be by the time the Democratic National Convention rolls around in late August.
"Senator Clinton will not choose any candidate who has not, at the time of the choosing, passed the national security threshold, period," Wolfson said. "But we have a long way to go between now and Denver, and it's not something that she is prepared to rule out at this point. But certainly anyone who is chosen as a vice presidential candidate needs to be prepared to be commander-in-chief."
Obama and his campaign bristle at such suggestions, accusing the Clinton campaign of trying to con voters into thinking that a vote for Clinton somehow means a vote for both Democrats.
"They are trying to hoodwink you," Obama said in Mississippi, where he is favored to win. "She is working hard to win the nomination, but I want everybody to be absolutely clear: I'm not running for vice president. I'm running for president of the United States of America. I'm running to be commander-in-chief."