Obama-Clinton Rivalry Muddles D.C. Alignments

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Washington lawyers Jim Hudson and Bill Lightfoot know how to spot a winning politician: Two years ago, they teamed up as co-chairmen of Adrian M. Fenty's powerhouse mayoral campaign.

But this year, the Fenty brain trust is divided.

Hudson raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Barack Obama's presidential campaign and helped line up Fenty's endorsement of the Democratic senator from Illinois. Lightfoot is a member of the D.C. steering committee for Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign and lobbied for the senator from New York during the D.C. Democratic State Committee's straw poll in December.

"They've been fun debates," said Lightfoot, sounding a tad too eager to play down the split over Obama and Clinton. "It's an event among friends."

With the approach of next Tuesday's primary in the District, political movers and shakers have lined up behind the two candidates in a network of interesting alliances and rivalries.

Community leaders who usually see eye to eye are on opposing sides, such as gay rights activists Peter Rosenstein (pro-Clinton) and Philip Pannell (pro-Obama). Elected officials who often spar suddenly find themselves unlikely partners, such as D.C. Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who are on Clinton's steering committee.

Even some households are divided. When Robert A. Malson, president of the D.C. Hospital Association, told his wife, Pepco lawyer and Clinton-backer Deborah Royster, that he intended to donate money to Obama, Royster scoffed.

"I told him we would welcome him back to the fold" after Obama lost, Royster said with a chuckle. "We have had some interesting dinner conversations."

Fifteen delegates will be up for grabs in the District, whose population is 57 percent African American. Many black voters elsewhere in the country have shown that they support Obama.

Having the mayor in his corner won't hurt Obama, either. Fenty, who endorsed Obama in July, has worked for him as an advocate and a surrogate. One day last week, Fenty joined Obama at a major rally at American University and then worked the VIP room at an Obama fundraiser at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Fenty said he appreciated Obama's pledge to support congressional voting rights for the District and identified with the senator's fresh point of view.

Obama "had the courage not to run a campaign that divides us, but rather to lead a movement to bring the country together with refreshing optimism and the simple refrain, 'Yes, we can!' " Fenty told the crowd of high-rollers with a rhetorical flourish often missing from his speeches about city business.

Yesterday, Fenty stumped for his candidate in Newark with Mayor Cory Booker.

Obama's supporters cite his unifying message and personal magnetism; Clinton backers talk about her experience and resilience after so many years in the national political spotlight. But those on both sides are quick to say they will be thrilled to support either candidate against the Republican nominee in the fall.

Fenty's support for Obama brings with it much of the mayor's battle-tested political machine. In addition to Hudson, those onboard with Obama include Tom Lindenfeld, Fenty's top campaign strategist, and John Falcicchio, Fenty's senior political adviser. Muriel Bowser, Fenty's hand-picked successor for the Ward 4 seat on the D.C. Council, has signed on, as has Matthew Cutts, whom Fenty appointed chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.

The local primary is a chance to see what the Obama and Clinton campaign operations are like on the ground.

Two grass-roots organizations -- D.C. for Obama and D.C. for Democracy -- teamed up with the Fenty crew to supply volunteers, create Web sites, canvass neighborhoods and distribute literature.

"We've built a database of voters sorted by ward and precinct volunteers," said Howard Park, an Obama volunteer who worked as a precinct captain in Fenty's campaign.

Some volunteers traveled recently from Mount Pleasant to Wheaton -- Maryland's primary is also Tuesday -- to promote Obama's candidacy in the Latino community there.

Clinton supporters haven't thrown in the towel in the District. On Nov. 2, the Clinton campaign announced a D.C. steering committee of 102 members, including philanthropist Judith Terra, a strong Fenty backer, council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), former Ward 5 council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. and Cora Masters Barry, former wife of council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who has not made an endorsement.

The Clinton team made a strong showing in the D.C. Democratic State Committee's straw poll in December, when Clinton received 55 votes to Obama's 49. At the state committee's delegate selection caucus last month, Clinton yard signs outnumbered Obama signs.

Pauline A. Schneider, a well-known lawyer who held a gathering of about 50 Clinton supporters at her home in September, acknowledged that facing the Fenty machine will be daunting. "He has a pretty extensive organization in town," she said. "Sure that matters, but I think there are some differences in the candidates, and that matters, too."

Ian Martinez, chairman of D.C. for Obama, said the work on the ground in the District reflects Obama's general approach to campaigning.

At the same time, Obama television ads have begun to air locally, and Fenty was planning to record a pro-Obama message for automated calls to voters in the two days before the primary. Aides said he also will visit several voting precincts on primary day.

So far, the Obama-Clinton split among Fenty supporters has remained good-natured.

Lindenfeld, the political strategist, was bowling with Lightfoot on New Year's Eve, when poll results came in showing Obama surging among Iowa voters.

"I e-mailed Hudson and told him Lightfoot is better at bowling than he is at predicting elections," Lindenfeld said with a laugh.

Lightfoot has hedged his bet.

Hudson "called me up and asked me to donate $1,000 to Obama," Lightfoot said, "and I did."

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