In an interview with me this morning, senior Hillary adviser Harold Ickes confirmed that Reverend Jeremiah Wright is a key topic in discussions with uncommitted super-delegates over whether Obama is electable in a general election.
The comments from Ickes, who is Hillary's chief delegate hunter, are to my knowledge the first on-the-record confirmation from a Hillary adviser that the Wright controversy is a subject in conversations between the Hillary campaign and the super-delegates her advisers are trying to win over to Hillary's side.
In the wide-ranging interview, Ickes also:
* Said that it was possible that Hillary forces on the convention credentials committee could bring a so-called "minority report" to a full convention vote, though he also said that this is something Hillary doesn't want to happen
* Confirmed that the Hillary campaign could still try to woo super-dels even if she lost the popular vote, with Michigan and Florida counted
* Said that there was no risk of Hillary's efforts "tearing the party apart," described the current campaign as "genteel," and dismissed those worrying about the damage the campaign could do to the party as "hand-wringers"
"Look what the Republicans did to a genuine war hero," Ickes said, in a reference to John Kerry.
"Super delegates have to take into account the strengths and weakness of both candidates and decide who would make the strongest candidate against what will undoubtedly be ferocious Republican attacks," Ickes continued. "I've had super delegates tell me that the Wright issue is a real issue for them."
In a reference to Wright's controversial views, Ickes continued: "Nobody thinks that Barack Obama harbors those thoughts. But that's not the issue. The issue is what Republicans [will do with them]...I think they're going to give him a very tough time."
Asked whether he was specifically bringing up Wright to super-delegates, Ickes said: "I've said what I've said...I tell people that they need to look at what they think Republicans may use against him. Wright comes up in the conversations."
When I asked Ickes if the Hillary campaign would still try to woo super-dels even if she was behind in the popular vote counting Florida and Michigan, he said: "I think being ahead in the popular vote is an important factor. I don't think it's dispositive...if at the end of the process she's running very slightly behind in the delegates overall, the popular vote vote will be important. I don't think it's absolutely critical."
Ickes added: "It seems to me that there's this great desire to rush to judgment...this has been a genteel debate for God's sake. People are wringing their hands, `oh, we're gonna tear party apart.' The party's a lot sturdier than these hand wringers in Washington would have you believe."
Ickes also said that it was possible that Hillary supporters on the convention credentials committee would bring a minority report to force a floor vote if the committee's solution on Florida and Michigan wasn't to the campaign's liking, but he predicted it likely wouldn't come to that and said Hillary doesn't want that to happen.
"My sense is it'll be resolved before then, but if it goes into the credentials committee we can always bring out a minority report and take it to the floor of the convention. Hillary does not want that. We don't think it's good for the party. We don't think it's good for the nominee."
Ickes pointed out that when he worked for Ted Kennedy's losing presidential primary run against Jimmy Carter in 1980, Kennedy aides brought a minority report calling for delegates to be able to vote their consciences, even though they "knew it was a foreordained conclusion" that it would lose.
"Look, there's always a possibility" that Hillary forces would produce a minority report, Ickes continued, but he added that it was not likely: "You don't do this lightly and only if you feel very very strongly...I think it will be resolved before then."