Philadelphia Mayor’s Endorsement Suddenly Matters

Philadelphia Mayor’s Endorsement Suddenly Matters

By Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray

Washington Post; Sunday, March 9, 2008; Page A02

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.”

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