The PUMAs are back on the prowl.
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s decision to run for president has stirred up old feelings for some loyal supporters who refused to accept her defeat in the 2008 Democratic primary. When other Democrats put away their swords and rallied behind Barack Obama, the resisters responded: “Party unity, my ass!” — hence the nickname PUMAs.
After seven years in the political wilderness, some are ecstatic at the chance to help elect a candidate that they believe in, and to make history by putting the first woman in the White House. Others are excited but cautious, still haunted by the events of 2008.
And some have even turned against Clinton — instead of signing on for her presidential campaign do-over, they plan to spend this cycle working to defeat her.
One thing they all agree on: they don’t regret their prolonged protest in 2008. In interviews, all of them said they still blame the Democratic Party for a ruling that cost Clinton delegates and the nomination.
Lynn Forester de Rothschild was a major donor and member of the Democratic National Committee’s platform committee in 2008. She was so angry over Clinton’s loss that she resigned her party post and very publicly backed McCain. “Hillary Clinton was opposed to me on that, and I understand it,” de Rothschild said in a recent interview.
“I did it, and I’m glad. I love John McCain. . . . He is a very good friend and a person I really admire,” she said. De Rothschild, chief executive of the holding company E.L. Rothschild, said she sits on the board of the McCain Institute. She didn’t vote for Mitt Romney in 2012, de Rothschild said. Instead, she wrote in Jon Huntsman in the general election.
But she is all in for Clinton now. “I’m going to do everything I possibly can. I really think it’s vital for our country to get Hillary Clinton elected. . . . I’m feeling fantastic,” de Rothschild said, glee ringing in her voice. “I’m feeling like this is it.”
Heidi Li Feldman, a Georgetown University law professor, is a bit more cautious.
“We’ve got a long way to go between the announcement of a candidacy, the winning of the nomination and most important the winning of a general election,” Feldman said in a recent interview.
It’s not unusual for rivalries and bitterness to linger after the final buzzer of a big game. But for some Clinton supporters, their emotional response after the 2008 campaign wasn’t just the usual bruised feelings in the aftermath of a hard-fought political contest. They were also infuriated at what they saw as rampant sexism directed toward the former first lady and senator from New York during the primary. Feldman dreads a repeat.
Even if Clinton ultimately wins the presidency next year, she said, “A lot of ugliness is going to be made explicitly palpable before we get to that point.”
As disgusted as she was about how things went in 2008, Feldman said: “I did not vote for McCain.” And, she added, in the last two presidential elections, “I did vote for President Obama once.”
According to the 2008 exit poll, Democrats who voted for Clinton in the primaries split 83-16 for Obama-McCain.
The 2008 protests by Clinton holdouts, some of whom made the rounds on cable TV news shows criticizing the party and Obama, drew backlash from some Democratic activists. The PUMAs were ridiculed as sore losers. The behavior on the part of some — like Clinton supporter Harriet Christian, whose rant calling Obama “an inadequate black male” went viral on YouTube — even sparked accusations of racial bias.
Diane Mantouvalos, another ardent Clinton backer in 2008, acknowledged that the rhetoric of some protesters was “a little toxic.” She said her motivation to keep fighting “wasn’t a dislike for Obama. . . . We just wanted to fight for her.”
When Clinton conceded the election to Obama in June 2008, Mantouvalos launched a now-defunct Web site called Just Say No Deal that became a virtual gathering place for the many groups who believed that their candidate had been robbed of the nomination.
Mantouvalos, a public relations consultant who lives in Miami, was especially upset with a ruling by the Democratic National Committee that reduced the number of Florida delegates that went to Clinton. She and other activists also were incredulous at the level of misogyny in the news media.
“We were kind of fighting for a bunch of things,” said Mantouvalos, who said she is an independent who usually votes Democratic.
That August she joined other holdouts at the Democratic convention in Denver, where they held protests and hoped for a coup by Clinton delegates. But when Clinton, during her speech there, endorsed Obama, Mantouvalos said, “I decided I’m done.” She did not vote for Obama.
“That’s all in the past,” said Mantouvalos, who said it “got a little crazy” trying to corral the Clinton renegades, and that she is not looking to get as intensely involved in 2016.
It should be noted that there was a parallel branch of the Clinton resistance for which the acronym PUMA had a more genteel meaning: “People United Means Action.” Darragh Murphy said she sees no need to revive the now-defunct PUMA PAC that she started to protest the party’s nominating process.
“I can’t foresee the same contention that we had in 2008. I think the party will be united behind her more or less,” said Murphy, who lives in Boston and doesn’t believe her senator, Elizabeth Warren, will get into the race, despite urging from the far left wing of the Democratic Party.
Steve Rosinski, who was living in Los Angeles in 2008 and worked on the campaign doing everything from manning phone banks to planting yard signs, never gave up on Clinton.
He wrote in Clinton’s name in 2008, and even led a write-in effort for 2012. In an online petition, he wrote: “Mr. President, we thank you for your service. However, we must ask you to do the right thing for your Party and your country and step aside, much like Lyndon Baines Johnson did in 1968 when he read the writing on the wall as to his own chances for victory.”
“I was a little rebellious,” Rosinski said in a recent interview.
He still believes Clinton would have been a better president but allows that “things have gone in a good direction, all the progress that’s been made in the economy.” He believes that “Hillary can be counted on to continue that.”
Rosinski, an actor who now lives in Las Vegas, runs a Facebook page for Clinton supporters titled, “Rise Hillary Rise,” inspired by a famous poem by the late Maya Angelou, another Clinton loyalist in 2008. He is more than ready for Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
“This is the day I’ve been waiting for. I can’t contain myself. She is my champion,” he said, adding, “I think she’s the most qualified person to ever run for this office. She’s finally getting her chance and her respect.”
Not every Clinton holdout from 2008 has signed on for her second-chance run.
Kyle Raccio was a part of the resistance, believing Clinton to have been “robbed of the nomination” by the Democratic Party.
A year after that bitter primary, Raccio said he felt “a level of hurt and distrust with the Democrats.”
“I started watching Fox News and looking at more conservative things and had a shift in views from the center to the right,” Raccio said.
These days he’s a tea party activist, and runs with the “Stop Hillary” crowd.
He also attributed his change of heart to his getting older. “I’m almost 30,” he said.
As for Clinton, Raccio said he believed her politics had changed, too. Raccio said Clinton seemed to be more of a centrist in 2008, “but now her politics are more aligned with Barack Obama’s.” Unlike other 2008 loyalists who say that Clinton’s turn as secretary of state burnished her qualifications for the presidency, Raccio said he was disappointed in Clinton’s tenure as chief diplomat, citing the Benghazi attack and crumbling U.S.-Russia relationship.
Seven years ago, Raccio said, “I was really caught up in the idea of having a female president.” He thought that Clinton had “a lot of experience” and Obama was “this guy who comes out of nowhere.”
So, what did Raccio do in the general election of 2008? “I thought, ‘Okay, you’re still mad about the primary, but you need to get over it.’ . . . I voted for Obama.”
His early favorites this time around: former senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).
Alice Crites and Peyton H. Craighill contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Heidi Li Feldman’s middle name.