Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Not All Clinton Backers Feeling the Love From Obama

David Nakamura and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers

DENVER, Aug. 25 -- The Maryland Democrats were busy burying any lingering rivalries between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton supporters under an avalanche of hugs, kisses and cocktails during a reception here the other night when Gov. Martin O'Malley bounded onstage.

"We have one nominee, and we are one party!" O'Malley, who had endorsed Clinton, shouted after embracing Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, an Obama backer. "Whether we supported Hillary or not, we are one party."

But off to the side, Mary Boergers, a Clinton delegate from Montgomery County, felt more like a party of one. Boergers, 62, a retired political science professor, was wearing two Hillary buttons, and she intends to vote for her during convention's roll call Thursday night.

"I find it perplexing that they make us feel like outliers or rogues because at the convention we plan to vote for the candidate we were elected to vote for," said Boergers, who was still steaming from Obama's selection of Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware as his running mate.

"It's just offensive," Boergers said. "If he said [Clinton] was on the shortlist and did not vet her at all, what does that say about the veracity of his words? My intent was to come to Denver with an open mind. . . . How all of us would be treated is a measure of how inclusive Obama's campaign and presidency would be. His campaign is all about post-partisan Washington, but if he can't even do it with his own party, how can he do it as president?"

Clinton is scheduled to address the convention tonight, and the political world is eager to see how she will speak to such supporters as Boergers, who are threatening not to fully support Obama in his general election battle against presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. These holdouts have been nicknamed PUMAs -- "party unity my [expletive]." They've been painted by the media, and watched by the McCain campaign, as potential spoilers, but it is unclear how many of the 18 million who voted for Clinton in the primary are in that group.

In interviews with the Maryland, Virginia and D.C. delegations, the number seemed small. Two fellow Maryland delegates agreed with Boergers, but most said they were behind Obama. The District's three Clinton delegates said they'll vote for her in the convention but work hard for Obama in the fall.

And in Virginia, party leaders said the reconciliation between the camps has been smooth because everyone understands the high stakes: The state is considered a battleground that could go to the Democrats for the first time since 1964. Several Virginians have sported "Clinton Delegate for Obama" buttons.

"There are still some people around the country who are disappointed with Obama, but most everyone I talk to will come together," said Paul Smedberg, a Clinton delegate who serves on the Alexandria City Council.

Clinton delegate Carlos Del Toro of Stafford County was a member of Clinton's leadership team and helped her Hispanic outreach leading up to Virginia's February primary. But last week, he attended a town hall meeting in support of Obama. He and his wife are raising money for Obama, and they are allowing Obama's Spotsylvania County field director to stay with them until the end of the campaign.

Although some Clinton delegates will cast their ballots for her this week out of nostalgia, Del Toro said, "When it comes to supporting the next president in the fall, I have no doubt they will do the right thing."

For the Obama delegates, figuring out how to welcome the Clintonites into the fold hasn't been easy. Shortly after Obama sealed the nomination in June, O'Malley had a reception for the state delegation at the governor's mansion in Annapolis. Two-thirds of the attendees, O'Malley said, did not wear their Obama or Clinton buttons, out of respect for each other.

"We were there to heal. Everybody understood that," said Cheryl Glenn, an Obama delegate from Baltimore. "I was a little apprehensive at first, but everyone has the same goal: defeat the Republicans."

Some Clinton delegates said that elected officials are motivated to get behind Obama in part because otherwise they would be in bad political standing if he wins.

For delegates such as Maggie McIntosh, a Maryland legislator who supported Clinton, defeating McCain seems like the most important issue.

"I immediately talked to Elijah [Cummings] and the governor and said, 'I'm on board,' " McIntosh said.

But Sue Hecht, a legislator and Clinton delegate from Frederick, has needed a little more time. When Obama volunteers asked her to help out over the summer, she balked.

"I said, 'Give me some time,' " Hecht said.

O'Malley said he did not attempt to strong-arm the Clinton delegates to switch to Obama. But Jason Waskey, 26, an O'Malley administration official who is an Obama delegate, called Boergers and offered her a position on the statewide Obama steering committee.

"I've been working on getting them in the mix," Waskey said. "I'm trying to make sure we talk to Clinton voters and listen to the issues that matter to them. And we want to let them know that the same issues -- women's issues, health care, the economy -- that made them vote for Hillary are the same issues Barack Obama will be strong on."

But Boergers declined Waskey's offer. Before she gets on board, she wants Obama to engage Clinton supporters by elevating those key issues higher in his platform. Two friends and fellow Clinton delegates, Michael Eaves and Ellis Mottur, agreed with Boergers as they huddled to the side of the Maryland delegation party.

"It's important that [Obama] show respect, not just for the candidate, but for those who voted for the candidate," Eaves said.

"I would desperately like to be able to do what Hillary tells us and support him as president," Boergers said. "But my heart's not there yet."

No comments: