Rep. Lewis Gets Primary Challenger Because of Possible Endorsement Switch

Rep. John Lewis' waffling over his pick for the Democratic presidential nomination has earned him a primary challenger.

Markel Hutchins, a 30-year-old minister, announced Wednesday that he would run for Lewis' congressional seat in the Atlanta district. Hutchins said he had been considering a bid for several weeks but was ultimately swayed by Lewis' recent equivocating over whether he supports Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama.

"Political experience can often times lead to political indebtedness, and I think such political indebtedness has caused Congressman Lewis in some real sense to separate himself from the winds of change that are blowing in his own congressional district," Hutchins said.

Lewis, a civil rights leader who is close to the Clintons, announced in October that he was endorsing the former first lady. His was among the most coveted endorsements in the Democratic race.

Since then, he has come under increasing pressure as Obama has generated excitement among black voters. Lewis' 5th District voted 3-to-1 for Obama in Georgia's Feb. 5 primary. Nearly nine in 10 black voters statewide supported Obama.

Lewis' spokeswoman has disputed recent media reports that Lewis said he would shift his support or was at least reconsidering. The spokeswoman, Brenda Jones, said last week that Lewis had not changed his endorsement. But that did not necessarily mean Lewis was planning to cast his superdelegate vote for the former first lady, she said.

"It's too premature to make that decision," she said.

Lewis, who turns 68 Thursday, has since ducked the matter, declining to take questions.

In response to Hutchins' announcement, Lewis' office issued a brief written statement Wednesday citing the congressman's experience as a unifying leader.

Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta who specializes in black leadership, said Lewis is "trying to have it both ways." Like many other older black politicians, she said, he probably made a strategic calculation that Clinton would win and is now caught between appearing fickle and ignoring the wishes of his constituents.

She predicted that Lewis and others would quickly abandon Clinton if she loses in the upcoming Texas and Ohio primaries.

The congressional primary is July 15.