(AP) - Eleven of the nation's governors will have to perform some political sleight of hand if Barack Obama clinches the Democratic nomination for president. After months of supporting Hillary Rodham Clinton, they will have to convince voters they're just as happy with her rival.
Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland repeatedly has said Obama is less experienced than Clinton. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said the election was not about choosing a rock star.
"He needs a little more seasoning," Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas said at a rally last August where he announced his endorsement of Clinton.
Other governors supporting Clinton include Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Ted Kulongoski of Oregon, along with the chief executives of Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New York and North Carolina.
Obama also has 11 Democratic governors, including Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, frequently mentioned as a possible running mate.
She tried to minimize the downside of switching candidates.
"Every colleague that I have in this country will do everything he or she can to make sure we have a Democratic president," Sebelius said.
Six other Democratic leaders are uncommitted, among them Govs. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Brian Schweitzer of Montana.
Putting nasty campaign comments in the past is a political tradition. In 1980, GOP presidential candidate George H.W. Bush dubbed Ronald Reagan's financial policies "voodoo economics," then let bygones be bygones as he became Reagan's loyal two-term vice president.
Governors, whose shared priorities often transcend partisan politics, have a history of playing nice. Few have gone for the jugular in remarks about Obama, whose campaign declined to comment on Clinton's gubernatorial supporters.
Still, this year's long and bitter Democratic primary has given governors and other superdelegates plenty of time to go on the record with remarks about Obama that could come back to haunt them.
"There's a treasure trove of ammunition for Republican campaign consultants to dip into," said Chris Borick, a pollster and political scientist at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania.
Case in point: a YouTube clip of Rendell appearing on Bill Maher's "Real Time" in February, e-mailed to The Associated Press by the Pennsylvania Republican Party just minutes after being asked about Rendell and Obama.
"We're not electing a rock star," Rendell says on the eight-minute clip. "It's not a vote to see who's the most charismatic."
Expect to see more of the same in the fall campaign, said Michael Barley, spokesman for the Pennsylvania GOP.
"It's going to be very difficult for him to pivot now and support a candidate that he was actively campaigning against," he said, referring to Rendell.
Wanna bet? said Rendell.
"I don't mean to sound lacking in humility, but if they try to make something out of that, I'll kill them," Rendell said. "I'll turn it so they'll wish they never brought it up."
Rendell said he was careful in the primary to avoid going negative on Obama and noted that the race was about a choice, just as the fall campaign will be.
"You can go through issue after issue and the difference between Senator (John) McCain and Senator Obama is absolutely clear and those things transcend any other aspects of the campaign," Rendell said.
Other governors made the same point, playing what might be called the unity card.
"My support remains with Senator Clinton, but I also think that Senator Obama would make a great president," Maine Gov. John Baldacci said in a statement. "What's most important for Democrats is that we all come together to support our nominee in the general election."
"That's politics," said Matt DeCample, a spokesman for Beebe, the Arkansas governor. "He'll have no qualms about being able to confidently support whoever the nominee is and to do so without hesitation."
Not surprisingly, McCain's campaign sees things differently. Governors who took positions at odds with Obama will be fair game in the fall, said Tucker Bounds, a spokesman for the Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting.
"Voters do have a memory," he said.
With their statewide bully pulpit, governors play important roles in presidential campaigns, as they rally support for a candidate and energize a party's get-out-the-vote machinery.
Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, a McCain backer, empathizes with his Democratic colleagues.
"It's got to be a little awkward, let's be honest," said Crist, whose name is on lists of possible McCain running mates.
Perhaps mindful that he waited until three days before Florida's pivotal primary Jan. 29 to endorse McCain, Crist acknowledged the problem is not unique to Democrats.
"There's an awful lot of people that are supporting Senator McCain that may not have been supporting him before he received the nomination because they understand the importance of party unity," he said.
Among those are Texas Gov. Rick Perry, originally a backer of Rudy Giuliani, and Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri, who first endorsed Mitt Romney.
A bigger question, says University of Dayton political scientist Grant Neeley, is how Obama's campaign will view the governors who didn't support him.
"Do you really want someone up on the dais with you who was not an ardent supporter to begin with?" Neeley said.
That may be a factor in Ohio, where not only does Strickland support Clinton, voters do, too -- by a 53 percent to 45 percent margin in the state's March primary.
Strickland said voters don't care whether he switches from one candidate to another. He said people are more interested in health care, education and ending the Iraq war so troops can come home.
"All of the political arguments and the back and forth regarding who may have said what about some other person, I think will be viewed as a political argument and irrelevant to the lives of most Ohioans," Strickland said.
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