Conor Oberst: Exhausting Democratic Primary Only Making Party Stronger

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With the results of Tuesday’s Kentucky and Oregon primaries in, Barack Obama now has a majority of pledged delegates for the Democratic Party nomination, leading many to dub him the nominee. Calls continue to come out of the Obama camp for Hillary Clinton to once and for all drop out of the race and begin the process of helping the party to unite behind the senator from Illinois.

At least one Obama supporter, though, is in no hurry: Conor Oberst.

Omaha’s folk-rock prince was one of Obama’s earliest musician supporters, playing at a rally for the candidate in Iowa on New Year’s Day, and several since then. And though O backs O as enthusiastically as ever, when I spoke to him last week, he said he has no problem letting the remaining primary states have their say.

“No, at this point [they] might as well,” he told me. “I don’t think there will be an issue with people coming together. Because it’s true there’s such a stark contrast with McCain. And I think everyone will understand that there are two clear choices.”

In fact, Conor says, the protracted primary battle has been a good thing. “It definitely got bad there for a minute, and I think everyone is experiencing fatigue with the whole process,” he said. “But I think, in the end, that it’s a great thing for the Democrats that it’s gone on this long -- just from a practical standpoint of organization in all those states and voter registration. The fact that so many more states have felt that their vote mattered.”

Other Obama supporters in the music world I have spoken to in recent months, including Michael Stipe and Chris Walla, have expressed disgust at what they saw as the “dirty” way the Clinton campaign at times conducted itself. And while Conor says he had similar moments of dismay, he’s a realist. “You gotta keep in mind that is politics…That’s the way the game has been played for so long. I don’t think it should come as a surprise to anyone that it would be like this,” he said. “[But] that is what is so exciting about Obama is that it seems it doesn’t have to be this way anymore.”

Conor said that he takes issue with the notion that his candidate is some out-of-touch elitist. “It’s really laughable for me, this ‘elitist’ argument,” he said. “Look at his tax returns. At the height of his wealth, when his book sold a lot, it was like $1.7 million or something that he was worth. But you know, the Clintons are like $20 or $30 million, McCain’s like $100 million. It’s like -- so who’s out of touch?”

Conor went on: “And then the other argument [Clinton] uses is look how he outspends her 2 to 1. Well, the reason he’s got all that money is that people all across America have donated in like $50 to $100 increments, and to me that means more than anything in terms of people putting their money where their mouth is. Him having accumulated this much wealth through this campaign -- to me, it’s the opposite of the way the Clinton campaign is trying to paint it.”

The way things are going it looks as though Oberst will have plenty more chances to play Obama rallies as the year goes on, and he said he’s open to the idea of organizing something with like-minded “Barack rock” musicians.

R.E.M., Arcade Fire, Death Cab For Cutie -- you listening?