Why I Still Back Hillary Clinton
Early last year John Kerry called me to say he was not going to run for president in 2008. I had served as his national treasurer in 2004 and was among those who felt he should consider running again. He would have made a great president. But it is almost impossible to overcome $450 million in negative advertising.
After we hung up, I needed to make a tough decision. I have served as the national treasurer of four Democratic presidential campaigns. I have seen our presidential politics up close for many years, and I understand well what is at stake.
The Democratic field this year has been rich, and I believe any of the Democratic candidates would be a superior president to the one we have now. For part of this campaign I supported Sen. Barack Obama. But I have come to realize that Hillary Clinton is the best candidate.
I did not reach this conclusion easily, although I have a long history with the Clintons. I served as national treasurer of Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign and subsequently served in his administration. The Clintons have been guests in my home, and I have been their guest at the White House. Hillary Clinton is an extraordinary woman and a great intellect. When I was going through personal difficulties, she could not have been more supportive or compassionate.
But as I weighed which candidate to support, I tried to think broadly. Polls of the Iowa caucusgoers in 2004 had reported that the single most important factor in their decision was electability.
Seven months ago, despite my affection for the Clintons, I did not feel that Hillary Clinton was electable.
Looking at the field, I was taken with Barack Obama. His freshness and message are appealing. I had read his books and agreed with his ideas on governance and the role of the president. I believe that he is a great talent and will be a major player in our party for decades to come. I also believe that if Barack Hussein Obama became president, the rest of the world would look at our country differently, perhaps helping to repair the damage the Bush administration has done to our global reputation.
My role as national campaign treasurer has been not to raise money personally but to sign up fundraisers, to encourage them to maximize their efforts and to make them feel part of the candidate's political family. Last year I sent e-mails to the 400 most effective fundraisers in the country announcing my support of Obama and asking about their interest in becoming involved with his campaign. I received 100 positive responses.
But late last year I realized I had made the wrong decision. The opportunity for the Democrats to recapture the White House is real. The Bush administration squandered much of the goodwill toward America after Sept. 11, 2001, and, given the events of the past four years, it would be tragic if we selected a nominee who falls short in the general election. And Obama is still largely untested and inexperienced. Even looking at his success in Iowa, which should provide momentum in today's New Hampshire primary, I think that Hillary Clinton is more electable. Obama is attractive, but he would be the object of an unbelievably negative advertising campaign. Hillary has already been vetted beyond imagination.
It was not easy for me to conclude that I was wrong. Over the past several months I've talked to many people who also initially had doubts about Hillary but now think that she is the strongest candidate. Hillary Clinton has run a terrific campaign. She has been knowledgeable in the debates. She has the experience of having lived in the White House for eight years, and her husband -- the best president of my lifetime -- would provide excellent counsel. I believe that hers would be the strongest and most effective voice on education, the economy, energy policy, health care and foreign policy. She would be best at preserving Social Security. And she would hit the ground running.
I have told those fundraisers whom I led to Obama that being able to see important changes and acknowledge electability is more important to my political ethics than consistency in the face of changing facts.
I switched my allegiance because I think the most important thing I can do is work toward nominating the strongest candidate. It is vital that the Democrats win back the White House. I have been down this road many times, and I am confident that Hillary Clinton's experience and depth of knowledge best prepare her for winning during the difficult homestretch of a presidential campaign.
The writer was treasurer of the Democratic Governors Association from 1983 to 1991 and treasurer of the Democratic National Committee from 1989 to 1991. He served as U.S. consul general to Bermuda from 1994 to 1999.