Philadelphia Mayor's Endorsement Suddenly Matters

By Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray
Sunday, March 9, 2008

On paper, Michael Nutter and Sen. Barack Obama have much in common.

African American, 50 years old and elected last year as mayor of Philadelphia on a reform platform, Nutter has in many ways experienced a political rise similar to that of the Illinois Democrat vying for his party's presidential nomination.

But presidential elections aren't fought on paper, and Nutter isn't a supporter of Obama's. Instead, he has endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and insisted in an interview late last week with The Fix that she is well positioned to clean up in both Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in general when the Democratic race makes its way there on April 22.

"There's the regular season, and then there's the playoffs," Nutter said of the nomination fight. "We're now in the playoffs." Extending the football metaphor, Nutter compared Obama to the New England Patriots, who were undefeated during the regular season and the playoffs, and Clinton to the New York Giants, who ended that winning streak in the Super Bowl.

Like so many politicians who cut their teeth in the 1990s, Nutter has a long history with the Clintons. In the early part of that decade, Nutter became involved in the Democratic Leadership Council, whose leading voice was then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. During Clinton's 1992 presidential bid, Nutter served as a pledged delegate for, in his words, "an unknown governor of the poorest state in America." (Left unsaid in the interview was that in Nutter's 2007 mayoral bid, Obama endorsed Rep. Chaka Fattah, who wound up finishing fourth.)

Despite that history, Nutter said he weighed his options carefully before deciding to endorse either candidate. He spoke with Obama and Clinton several times, knowing that he wanted to make an endorsement. ("You are either on the field or on the sidelines," Nutter said. "I am an on-the-field guy.") In the end, he went with Clinton because "I thought she had the best ideas [and a] tremendous track record."

Nutter's endorsement of Clinton in December seemed inconsequential at the time. After all, no one in the political world believed the race would last beyond Feb. 5, Super Tuesday.

But, as the race has gone on (and on), Pennsylvania has become more and more relevant, and Nutter has emerged as a far more central figure in the ongoing debate over whether black elected officials should line up behind Obama and his potentially history-making candidacy.

Asked how much pressure he has come under to reconsider his endorsement of Clinton, Nutter responds curtly "none" before noting: "I don't know if anyone is asking Senator Kennedy or Senator Kerry, who happen to be white, whether they are getting any pressure from their constituents for their endorsement of Senator Obama."

Nutter takes it as a point of personal pride that he plans to stick with Clinton no matter what the future holds for her candidacy. "I take my time, think about what I am doing and then stick with it," he said. "I don't care whether it's just me and them left."

Given Clinton's victories last week in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island, Pennsylvania looks like fertile territory for her, although Philadelphia -- a city that is 45 percent black -- could be far tougher.

Nutter, however, is optimistic, pointing out that in his 2007 Democratic primary victory he won both the white vote and the black vote, the first mayoral candidate in the city's history to do so.

"We feel a certain sense of freedom and progressiveness here," Nutter said of the City of Brotherly Love. "The notion that all black people vote one way has to be destroyed."

Staff Flees Freedom's Watch

Freedom's Watch, widely seen as conservatives' answer to, has experienced a staff exodus of late that has raised questions about its effectiveness heading into the fall general election.

The latest departure was that of Bradley Blakeman, who stepped down as president of Freedom's Watch on Friday. "I accomplished what I set out to do, and now it is time to pass the torch," Blakeman said in a posting on the group's blog.

In an interview with The Fix, Blakeman rejected the idea that he had been forced out by donors not happy with the direction of the group. "I resigned. They didn't ask for my resignation," he said.

Blakeman's decision follows hard on several other senior-level departures from the group, including those of Matt David and Robert Terra. Both men were veterans of Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, leaving as part of a huge staff shake-up in August. After stints at Freedom's Watch, both have moved on to work for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (Calif.).

The group made its debut last fall with a multimillion-dollar ad campaign urging members of Congress to support the troops in Iraq. In late 2007, it launched an ad in a special election in Ohio that hit the Democratic candidate as soft on immigration and was credited with delivering the GOP nominee a victory.

A budget of more than $200 million for the 2008 election was floated in a piece on the group in the New York Times, and a number of the biggest Republican financial heavyweights -- Sheldon Adelson, chairman of Las Vegas Sands, and Mel Sembler, a Florida shopping center magnate -- signed on as founders of the effort.

So far this year, however, the group has been relatively quiet, leading some in Republican circles to worry that Democrats and their allied groups will start the general election with a considerable edge.

"Freedom's Watch has not figured out its role in the conservative/Republican universe," said one senior party strategist. "Organizations like this have to fit in, but so far it's either been so ambitious it could not possibly accomplish its goals or too timid to actually do anything."

Jim Jordan never strays too far from the Senate battlefield. The man who made his name in Washington for his stewardship of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee earlier this decade will take over the organization's independent expenditure effort for the fall campaign. The vast bulk of spending by the national party committees over the last few elections has been done through these sorts of vehicles, which can dump unlimited funds into a campaign but must not have any contact with official party organizations. In the 2006 election, the DSCC spent more than $43 million through its independent expenditure operation. "It's a pleasure to be back in the fold, and I'm grateful for the confidence in me that Senator [Charles] Schumer and Senator [Harry] Reid and the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] leadership are showing," Jordan said. Jordan knows the Senate class of 2008 well; he was executive director of the DSCC the last time this class stood for reelection in 2002.

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