By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 13 The Hillary voter has come home.
It wasn't primarily the work of Hillary Clinton, though by her count she has made more than 50 public appearances for Barack Obama. Nor was it the work of Obama, who has kept Clinton and her advisers at arm's length. No, the one who put the Hillary Clinton voters in Obama's column was John McCain -- with his choice of a running mate.
"Palin -- God forbid! Where did they find her?" Evelyn Fruman exclaimed Monday before a Clinton speech at a Jewish community center here.
"God forbid!" Gail Silverberg chimed in. "Hockey moms and lipstick on a pig and six-packs? I don't want that stuff."
Nearby, Rina Jampolsky was wearing a "Hillary Sent Me" button next to a pin saying "Barack Obama" in Hebrew. "I thought I wouldn't vote at all when Hillary left the race," she said. "But as soon as McCain selected Sarah Palin, my decision was made."
They were the quintessential Hillary supporters waiting for their heroine at the hall in northeast Philly: virtually all white, mostly women, and mostly old. Of the minority who weren't Jewish, most were Catholic. In the local state Senate district, primary voters went for Clinton over Obama by 3 to 1.
But something has happened in recent weeks among the Clinton faithful. Fear of the right-wing Palin, coupled with the economic collapse, has caused them to quietly swallow their Obama misgivings. "It's amazing," said Brendan Doyle, who has been knocking on doors here for the Democratic candidate for state Senate. "The last four weeks I've seen a big turn."
The new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds the same thing. Fully 81 percent of Democrats and like-minded independents who favored Clinton said they now back Obama. If Obama gets the 90 percent of Democrats who tell the pollsters they support him, he will do better than any other Democratic candidate in nearly 40 years.
Of course, there are still some tender feelings -- most publicly those of Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who gave a most unusual introduction to Clinton at her rally for Obama on Monday in Horsham, near Philadelphia.
"The proudest accomplishment I'll look back on is the seven-week campaign we ran for Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania," Rendell said. About half of the several hundred people at the outdoor rally applauded.
"I have never seen a seven-week campaign catch fire the way that campaign did," Rendell went on. A smaller number of people clapped.
"It was wonderful to see people who would tell me, 'I'm never voting for Hillary Clinton,' by the end of that seven weeks were avid Hillary Clinton supporters," Rendell continued. This time nobody applauded.
Rendell was not quite done. "In Washington, D.C., if we lose all of our supporters, all the people who look out for us, there will be one man left standing," he said, "but that man will be a woman, Hillary Rodham Clinton."
Clinton tried to take over the microphone, uttering a "Whoa!" to admire the crowd -- but Rendell reclaimed the floor. "One last time!" he shouted, leading the crowd in a chant of "Hillary! Hillary!"
And this would be an Obama rally?
The sentiment was much the same in Scranton on Sunday, when Bill and Hillary Clinton joined Joe Biden and his wife at an Obama rally. Bill Clinton got nearly two-thirds of the way through his speech before speaking the words "Barack Obama," and he mentioned his wife more often than the presidential nominee.
"I expect to spend the rest of my natural life trying to show people how grateful I am [to those] who supported Hillary in her long quest this last year," the former president said. "I knew 37 years ago when I first met her that I'd never met anybody like her before and I might not ever meet anybody like her again."
Hillary Clinton, up next, had a modest proposal: "Go out and make the case, because Barack and Joe are not asking you to marry them. They are asking you to vote for them -- and vote for yourselves."
In truth, Clinton has been a loyal soldier for Obama on the stump -- no small matter for a woman who, if Obama prevails, will have her own presidential ambitions postponed for eight years, if not indefinitely.
Though she offers little in the way of a personal endorsement of Obama, she combines a cerebral defense of Obama with a visceral denunciation of McCain.
The closest she got to personal praise was describing Biden and Obama as "two leaders with the intelligence and the determination and the good ideas and the savvy to get the job done."
But she, and the crowd, were far more passionate in denunciation of McCain and President Bush. "We are in a financial crisis born and bred by the failed Republican policies of George Bush and John McCain," she told the retirees in Philadelphia. The very mention of Palin's name caused the crowd to erupt in boos and hisses.
It was a long way to come for Clinton, who during the primary denounced Obama with a refrain of "That's not change" and once said that his experience was nothing more than "a speech he gave in 2002."
Memories of that campaign were still fresh in the minds of those supporters who spoke before her, including the local congresswoman, Allyson Schwartz ("Boy, we did a good job for her!"), and the mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter ("We still support her and we still love her").
The crowd in Horsham was stirred to a nostalgic chant of "Hillary!" and the former candidate responded. "I know that there are many of you in this crowd who supported me, and I will be forever grateful," she said.
"We love you!" somebody called out.
"I love you, too," Clinton said, but she then returned to the business at hand. "There is only one choice," she said. "Barack Obama and Joe Biden will fight for you."