Cam­paign’s ef­fects to last even longer for Democrats

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Christina Bellantoni

Ev­ery move that Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton makes in the fi­nal weeks of the pro­longed pres­i­den­tial pri­mary shapes her legacy and will de­ter­mine how united the Demo­cratic Party can be in the fall.

Will vot­ers re­mem­ber the an­gry “shame on you” can­di­date who sug­gested that Sen. Barack Obama’s chief ex­pe­ri­ence was giv­ing a speech op­pos­ing the Iraq war, or the tough, driven Demo­crat who pas­sion­ately said she would fight for health care and unify the Demo­cratic Party when the pri­mary sea­son fi­nally ends? De­pends on whom you ask. Some Obama sup­port­ers say their opin­ion of the for­mer first lady has se­ri­ously de­graded over the bruis­ing months of the cam­paign, but many Democrats who a few weeks ago wor­ried that Mrs. Clin­ton was cre­at­ing a per­ma­nent rift within the party by at­tack­ing Mr. Obama now say her scru­tiny has made him a bet­ter gen­eral elec­tion can­di­date.

Democrats on both sides of the fight agree that Mr. Obama ul­ti­mately will be the nom­i­nee.

“Hil­lary Clin­ton stay­ing in this race has made him a bet­ter can­di­date than he would oth­er­wise have been bat­tle-tested,” said Steven Gross­man, for­mer chair­man of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee and a su­perdel­e­gate sup­port­ing Mrs. Clin­ton.

On the cam­paign trail in re­cent weeks, Mrs. Clin­ton has soft­ened her at­tacks on Mr. Obama’s ex­pe­ri­ence, in­stead fo­cus­ing on a prom­ise of unity and blast­ing the pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, Sen. John McCain of Ari­zona, as of­fer­ing lit­tle more than a third term for Pres­i­dent Bush.

“This has been a tough fight, and I have fought it the only way I know how: with de­ter­mi­na­tion, by never giv­ing up, and never giv­ing in,” Mrs. Clin­ton told sup­port­ers May 20 in Louisville, Ky. “Not be- cause I’ve wanted to demon­strate my tough­ness, but be­cause I be­lieve pas­sion­ately for the sake of our coun­try the Democrats must take back the White House.”

Her cam­paign team also has been quiet lately while Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain trade jabs in speeches.

There’s a lot of spec­u­la­tion about what Mrs. Clin­ton’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture holds — a run for New York gov­er­nor or an­other White House at­tempt in 2012 or 2016, a bid for Se­nate ma­jor­ity leader, vice pres­i­dent or Cabi­net mem­ber — but Democrats agree that she will re­main a top fundraiser and key leader for years to come.

Many party mem­bers, how­ever, in­clud­ing DNC mem­ber Nancy Dinardo of Con­necti­cut, an un­com­mit­ted su­perdel­e­gate, are trou­bled by some of the exit poll data show­ing Democrats di­vided be­tween the White House hope­fuls.

“I had hoped that by the end, one can­di­date or the other would be able to break into the other’s base of sup­port,” she said, adding that she is op­ti­mistic that the party will come to­gether even­tu­ally.

Ken­tucky exit polls taken May 20 showed that only one-third of Clin­ton vot­ers would sup­port Mr. Obama in the fall, sug­gest­ing that he has a lot of work to do to win over her base of sup­port: women and lower-in­come white vot­ers. He has made head­way with His­panic vot­ers, how­ever, and was win­ning that de­mo­graphic in the latest Gallup Poll.

“There’s some hard feel­ings for ac­tivists that are re­ally push­ing for one or the other, and if your can­di­date doesn’t win, it’s hard to go over to the other side,” said Ge­or­gia DNC mem­ber Richard Ray, pres­i­dent of the state AFL-CIO and a su­perdel­e­gate who said he will re­main un­com­mit­ted through the fi­nal con­tests.

He thinks it will work out in the end: “Democrats are known to suck it up for the bet­ter­ment of the party.”

De­spite furor over Mrs. Clin­ton’s claim­ing sup­port from “hard­work­ing [. . . ] white Amer­i­cans,” racial ten­sions and peo­ple who think she has given Repub­li­cans am­mu­ni­tion to use against Mr. Obama, the Clin­ton brand name re­mains strong, Democrats said.

“How she per­formed in the pri­maries [. . . ] will en­hance her brand sig­nif­i­cantly,” Mr. Gross­man said. “Hil­lary Clin­ton has done ex­actly the right thing by stay­ing in all the way to the end.”

“She’s a leader, and she’s very pas­sion­ate. She’ll stay in un­til the very last vote is counted,” Mr. Ray said.

Com­pared with the Repub­li­cans, whose out­go­ing leader is an un­pop­u­lar pres­i­dent, the Democrats will have Mrs. Clin­ton and for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton as top boost­ers and fundrais­ers in the fall, party lead­ers said.

While Repub­li­cans and con­ser­va­tive ra­dio host Rush Lim­baugh have gloated that the Demo­cratic Party is in such chaos that the blood­shed will help Mr. McCain cruise to vic­tory in the fall, a strong coun­ter­ar­gu­ment is that the fight is good for the party.

“Some may see the mil­lions upon mil­lions of votes cast for each of us as ev­i­dence that our party is di­vided, but I see it as proof that we have never been more en­er­gized and united in our de­sire to take this coun­try in a new di­rec­tion,” Mr. Obama said May 20 in Iowa.

Oth­ers see a bright side to the long-last­ing cam­paign. In pre­vi­ous cy­cles, the nom­i­nees have been mostly de­cided by the first-in-then­ation con­tests in Iowa and New Hamp­shire, which prompted Florida and Michi­gan to buck party rules in hopes of end­ing the in­flu­ence those early states had on the process.

It ap­peared the bat­tle would be over af­ter Su­per Tues­day, but when that didn’t hap­pen, vot­ers across the coun­try were treated to some­thing they rarely get: hav­ing an elec­tion that mat­ters.

As the Clin­ton-Obama race dragged on, dozens of states had their say and sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence was as­signed to states that have been ig­nored in pre­vi­ous years, such as North Carolina, In­di­ana and South Dakota. Th­ese states have been treated to mul­ti­ple vis­its from the Clin­ton and Obama fam­i­lies.

Voter reg­is­tra­tion fig­ures soared, and party lead­ers in ev­ery state said they see a great ben­e­fit in an en­gaged elec­torate.

“I am un­com­mit­ted and lov­ing it,” said Bob Mul­hol­land, a DNC mem­ber and ad­viser to the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic Party.

He sup­ported the DNC’s plan award­ing a bonus to states that held their Demo­cratic pri­maries later in the elec­tion cal­en­dar.

“This is great,” he said. “The Democrats have added a cou­ple mil­lion vot­ers to the rolls. In 2004, when New Jer­sey held the last pri­mary of the sea­son, we had 10 per­cent turnout. That was em­bar­rass­ing.”

Now, the two camps have de­ployed re­sources and staffers to each state and ter­ri­tory, far sur­pass­ing the ground­work laid by Repub­li­cans be­fore their nom­i­na­tion process ended in Fe­bru­ary.

The bat­tle also has helped vo­cal­ize the na­tional Demo­cratic Party mes­sage, said Joe Sheeran, a spokesman for the Delaware state party.

“Had this race ended in Fe­bruar y or March, the na­tion wouldn’t be out talk­ing about health care, ed­u­ca­tion and the eco­nomic cri­sis cre­ated by Pres­i­dent Bush,” he said. “It’s got­ten peo­ple think­ing and talk­ing about Demo­cratic is­sues.”

Mr. Gross­man noted that by the time the con­tests end June 3, more than 40 mil­lion peo­ple will have cast bal­lots for Democrats, and “ev­ery one of those who voted in the pri­mary is more likely to vote in gen­eral elec­tion.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Not go­ing away: Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton cel­e­brates May 20 with her hus­band, for­mer pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, and daugh­ter Chelsea at her Ken­tucky pri­mary vic­tory party.

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