Monday, June 09, 2008

Can Democrats Unite Behind Obama After Bruising Primary Campaign with Clinton?

New Jersey Superdelegate Who Supported Clinton Says Her Campaign Employed 'Very Divisive Tactics and Rhetoric' to Turn Jewish Voters Against Obama and Exploit Black-Jewish Tensions

Finally bowing to political reality -- and under pressure from Democratic Party leaders to avoid a disastrous split in the party's rank and file -- Hillary Rodham Clinton conceded defeat to Barack Obama Saturday and threw her support for her former rival, ending an often-bitter five-month battle for the Democratic presidential nomination. But while many Clinton supporters -- particularly women -- are calling for the former first lady to become the Illinois senator's vice-presidential running mate, a New Jersey superdelegate says her campaign's "deeply divisive," racially-motivated tactics to stoke tensions between African-Americans and Jews in the closing weeks of the contest makes an Obama-Clinton ticket untenable. (Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters)

By Skeeter Sanders

With Hillary Rodham Clinton now officially out of the running in the race for the White House, Democrats have begun the Herculean task of stitching back together a party deeply divided along generational, gender and especially racial and ethnic lines.

But that task could be made much harder following the disclosure Friday by a New Jersey superdelegate previously pledged to Clinton that the former first lady's campaign employed "very divisive," racially-motivated tactics against her former rival in an attempt to turn Jewish voters away from him -- and exploit longstanding tensions between African-Americans and Jews.

The New York senator formally brought her history-making presidential campaign to an end on Saturday with a rousing farewell in Washington to thousands of supporters and with an emotional and unequivocal pledge to campaign hard for Senator Barack Obama, who made history of his own last Tuesday when he became the first African-American to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination.

“The way to continue our fight now, to accomplish the goals for which we stand, is to take our energy, our passion, our strength and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States,” Clinton told her supporters. “Today, as I suspend my campaign, I congratulate him on the victory he has won and the extraordinary race he has run. I endorse him and throw my full support behind him.”

Obama Turns Toward Search for Veep Running Mate

Obama, who watched Clinton's speech from his Chicago home, wasted no time in lavishing praise on his defeated rival. “I honor her today for the valiant and historic campaign she has run,” he said. “She shattered barriers on behalf of my daughters and women everywhere, who now know that there are no limits to their dreams.”

The Democratic nominee-elect -- whose campaign Web site prominently displayed a "Thank you, Senator Clinton" message on its home page -- remained off the campaign trail on Sunday, preparing for a tour of the country in his upcoming race against his Republican counterpart, John McCain in the November general election.

But his first order of business for now is choosing a vice-presidential running mate. And already, Obama is coming under mounting pressure from Clinton supporters -- particularly women -- to name the former first lady as his No.2.

"No one brings to a ticket what Hillary brings," Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) said Sunday on ABC's "This Week." Feinstein hosted a secret meeting between Clinton and Obama at her suburban Washington home on Thursday night. Neither senator would disclose what was said during the meeting.

Feinstein cited Clinton's achievement in winning around 18 million votes during the nominating contests, with particular strength among women and working-class Democrats. "I do think she has a chance, but that's up to him," Feinstein said. "It's going to take some time. The nerve endings have to be healed. They are being healed."

Or are they?

N.J. Superdelegate: Clinton Exploited Black-Jewish Tensions

A Democratic superdelegate from New Jersey says he is worried that unifying the party behind Obama may be extremely difficult, because the Clinton camp "has engaged in some very divisive tactics and rhetoric it should not have."

Representative Rob Andrews, who supported Clinton throughout the primary season, disclosed in an interview published Friday in The Star-Ledger of Newark that he received a telephone call shortly before the April 22 Pennsylvania primary from a top member of the Clinton campaign and that the caller explicitly discussed a strategy of winning over Jewish voters by exploiting longstanding tensions between Jews and African-Americans.

"There have been signals coming out of the Clinton campaign that have racial overtones that indeed disturb me," Andrews told the newspaper at his campaign headquarters in Cherry Hill, N.J. Tuesday night after he lost his primary bid for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat against incumbent Frank Lautenberg.

"Frankly, I had a private conversation with a high-ranking person in the campaign ... that used a racial line of argument that I found very disconcerting," Andrews said. "It was extremely disconcerting given the rank of this person. It was very disturbing."

Andrews told The Star-Ledger that he received the telephone call after he angered the Clinton camp by making some positive comments about Obama. He would not disclose the caller's name because of the private nature of the conversation.

A Clinton campaign spokesman issued an angry response to Andrews, who once had the task of lobbying other members of Congress to support her. "Comments like these, coming so soon after Congressman Andrews' crushing defeat, are sad and divisive," Clinton's chief national spokesman, Phil Singer, told the newspaper.

But Andrews stood firmly by his statements and added, "I would hope that all Democrats can put this divisiveness behind them. I'm glad the Clinton campaign is finally about to change its tone." He said he made his comments only after his primary loss to Lautenberg because "I didn't want people to think I was trying to win over Obama supporters in the primary."

The Obama camp declined to comment.

Obama Perceived as Weak with Jewish Voters, But New Poll Says Otherwise

In the April 22 primary in Pennsylvania, Clinton drubbed Obama among Jewish voters there, with exit polls showed her winning 62 percent of Jewish voter to Obama's 38 percent, suggesting that Obama was no longer competitive with the former first lady among Jews.

Pundits ascribed Obama's perceived weakness among Jews to revelations in March of his former pastor, the now-retired Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr.'s inflammatory black-nationalist rhetoric -- including his occasional broadsides against Israel and its American Jewish supporters.

But a new Gallup poll shows Obama once again competitive among Jewish voters. In the general-election match-up with McCain, according to the poll, Obama would pull 61 percent of Jewish voters, compared to McCain's 32 percent.

The poll's margin of error was plus or minus four percent.

Obama, speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in Washington on Wednesday, drew several standing ovations from the mostly Jewish crowd after he talked tough on the Iranian threat to Israel while also promising that he would lead in pursuing a peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

“I won’t wait until the waning days of my presidency,” Obama said, in a swipe at President Bush. “I will take an active role and make a personal commitment to do all I can to advance the cause of peace from the start of my administration.”

As president, he added, “I will work to help Israel achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security.”

Obama-Clinton Ticket May Be Impossible to Forge

Friends and associates said they fully expected Clinton to throw herself into campaigning for Obama, though she will also work strenuously to thank her own supporters, donors and staff members (she has already hand-written several notes of gratitude). But speculation remained rife on Sunday on the possibility of the former first lady becoming Obama's vice-presidential running mate.

"It's not a job that she's seeking and it's not a job that she's campaigning for," her campaign communications director, Howard Wolfson, said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "But she has made it clear, during the campaign and now, that she will do whatever she can and whatever she is asked."

"I'm not expecting it, don't spend a lot of time thinking about it," Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia said on "Fox News Sunday." "Of course, it would be difficult for anybody in those circumstances to say no."

However, in the wake of Andrews' disclosure of racially-motivated tactics against Obama by the Clinton camp, an Obama-Clinton ticket appears highly unlikely -- and, indeed, undesirable -- to this blogger. And I'm not alone.

Former President Jimmy Carter urged Obama to "Just say no" to Clinton, saying in an interview published Sunday in the British newspaper The Guardian that such a pairing “would be the worst mistake that could be made.”

Carter, who announced his support for Obama on Tuesday, told the newspaper's Weekend magazine that Obama and Clinton together “would just accumulate the negative aspects of both candidates.”

In a bluntly-worded assessment, Carter cited Clinton’s almost 50 percent negative ratings in national opinion polls and the many questions and biases -- racial ones in particular -- that Obama faces.

“If you take that 50 percent who just don’t want to vote for Clinton and add it to whatever element there might be who don’t think Obama is white enough or old enough or experienced enough or because he’s got a middle name that sounds Arab, you could have the worst of both worlds,” Carter said.

The former president said he also would have opposed a Clinton-Obama ticket with Clinton at the top.

Don't Forget the Bill Clinton Factor

Then there's the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room that nobody wants to talk about, but cannot ignore: another former president by the name of Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton had so deeply alienated African-American voters in January with his sharp attacks on Obama that the former president -- once so popular among blacks he was dubbed the "first black president" by author Toni Morrison -- caused a near-total desertion of his wife by blacks, who voted Obama over Clinton by margins as high as nine to one.

And in the ultimate slap in the face, Morrison endorsed Obama rather than the former first lady.

Reviled by conservatives -- and ultimately impeached in 1999 -- for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern, Bill Clinton became embroiled in new controversy only hours before the polls opened in the final primaries last Tuesday in Montana and South Dakota when Vanity Fair magazine published allegations that the former president was in a new extramarital affair.

In its July issue, the magazine alleges that Clinton is involved with actress Gina Gershon -- who hotly denied the story and demanded the magazine publish a retraction. The magazine refused, with a spokeswoman saying that, "We don't believe any correction is warranted."

The article, a profile by former New York Times reporter Todd Purdum of the post-White House Clinton, mentioned "dinner-party gossip" that the former president had strayed from his wife since his heart surgery in 2004, and it claimed he had been "visiting" Gershon in California.

Some Clinton Supporters Vow They Won't Support Obama

In her concession speech on Saturday, Clinton asked her supporters to rally behind Obama. She drew attention to the historic battle they waged between the first serious female presidential candidate and possibly the first black president.

Most in the crowd roared their approval when Clinton mentioned Obama’s name, though there were boos and jeers from the third-level balcony that hung over the hall. Some of her supporters tried to drown out those boos by clapping louder.

So bitter are some of the former first lady's supporters to her defeat that in a CNN poll released Friday, while a 60 percent majority of Clinton supporters said they would vote for Obama, 17 percent said they would vote for McCain in November and 22 percent, said they would not vote at all.

Other polls showed that older white women, particularly old-line feminists such as former Representative Geraldine Ferraro (D-New York), were most resistant to supporting Obama. They formed the backbone of Clinton's support and are deeply angered by Clinton's loss, which many feminists blame on sexism and misogyny.

This group may prove the most difficult for Clinton to convince to vote for Obama in November. But would they actually vote for McCain -- especially if they knew that the Arizona senator, contrary to his maverick image, has a perfect Senate record opposing women's reproductive-freedom rights?

Only time will tell.

Volume III, Number 37
Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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