Hillary fans come to terms with ticket

Politico; by Glenn Thrush & Amie Parnes; August 23, 2008

Hillary Rodham Clinton is urging her followers to back a “purposeful and dynamic” Joe Biden even as some backers, already resentful that she wasn’t even vetted for the slot, detect a whiff of mockery in Obama’s 3 a.m. running mate announcement.

Only about half of former Clinton voters say they’ll back the Illinois senator — and it’s not clear if the Biden choice will attract or alienate those who have yet to embrace Obama. Former Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson predicted her troops would eventually fall in line but suggested that Biden needed to project toughness — as Clinton did — to win over voters.

The question, Wolfson said, is “whether Joe Biden is willing to go after John McCain.” 

“I don’t think this will either antagonize or assuage her supporters,” Wolfson added. “Sen. Clinton likes Joe Biden, and I don’t think he said a bad word about her during the entire campaign — there’s no animosity or enmity at all — in that sense he’s a safe pick … . But she’s the only person who was going to automatically bring her supporters back into the fold.”

“In naming my colleague and friend Sen. Joe Biden to be the vice presidential nominee, Sen. Obama has continued in the best traditions for the vice presidency by selecting an exceptionally strong, experienced leader and devoted public servant,” Clinton said in a statement released this morning. “Sen. Biden will be a purposeful and dynamic vice president who will help Sen. Obama both win the presidency and govern this great country.”

Clinton’s hardy troupe of die-hards had hoped against hope until the last minute — and reacted to the announcement that Obama had chosen Biden as his running mate with a mixture of anger, resignation and gallows humor.

Amid reports that Barack Obama’s team hadn’t even bothered to vet Clinton, some of her staunchest supporters were still floating optimistic e-mails on Friday, buoyed by pie-in-the-sky rumors that Obama had swallowed his pride and reached out to the former first lady.

Some passed around a YouTube clip of an old “West Wing” episode in which a Hillary-like Democratic presidential candidate tosses aside his concession speech to force a convention vote — as a nod to his fanatical supporters.

“HRC fans have been electrified by the late buzz on her dark horse potential,” one stalwart supporter BlackBerry-ed this morning. “That is, I haven’t heard anything to indicate that she is under serious consideration, but that hasn’t tamped down the hope.”

The news, when it broke after midnight, was deflating, if unsurprising.

“I believe the overwhelming polling data that Sen. Clinton would have helped Sen. Obama the most to win the election, especially in battleground states,” said Lanny Davis, former special counsel to President Bill Clinton and one of Sen. Clinton’s most passionate supporters. “Having said that, I completely support the decision he has made as his alone and will support Joe Biden.”

A former Clinton staffer opined: “Joe’s smart and funny, but this is not exactly an exciting choice.”

After learning that Obama aides sent the text message announcing Biden’s selection just after 3 a.m., some Clinton aides wondered openly if the Obama campaign was mocking Clinton’s famous 3 a.m. ad.

Hillary supporter Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) predicted the move would further anger many of the New York senator’s most hardcore supporters.

“I never thought he would pick Hillary,” she said. “I know politics. Things just don’t happen that way. Hillary knew that. Anyone who thought he would put her on the ticket is just clueless.” 

Sanchez said that she had a friend, a staunch Democrat, who is voting for John McCain because “he is so unhappy about what’s happened,” adding that Clinton supporters have encountered a “disconnect” with the Obama campaign.

“They’re not hearing what people have to say,” Sanchez said. “They have no communication with us.”

Asked why Clinton was never seriously considered, one Clinton aide responded with a single word: “Ego.”

Other Clinton backers, some mulling protests in Denver to coincide with the Tuesday roll-call vote, remain bitter and believe Obama traded a possible “Dream Team” for a nightmare ticket.

“It’s a big mistake not to choose her. It’s sad and it’s a sure way to guarantee the Republicans will win,” said Jenny Doggett, founder of counteveryvotecast.org, who has urged Clinton to take her campaign to the convention floor.

“Obama can’t do this on his own. This ticket isn’t going to be able to compete and can’t overcome the lack of unity. Only Hillary can bring them that,” Doggett said. 

Tuesday’s ceremonial roll-call vote for Clinton could be a flashpoint for pro-Clinton delegates disappointed by today’s decision. Earlier this week, Politico reported that Clinton adviser Craig Smith was organizing a 40-member “whip team” to keep any demonstrations from getting out of hand. Clinton has said she plans to vote for Obama and won’t urge anyone to vote for her on the first ballot.

“People will be disappointed that it’s not her on the ticket,” said Sam Arora, a former Clinton aide who recently dissolved voteboth.org, which was pushing for a joint ticket. “But we hope that enough time has passed that her supporters have gotten over it and are in a place where they can support the party’s ticket.”

Sanchez, for her part, predicted Clinton would handle herself like a “confident professional” when she addresses the convention on Tuesday night.

“She’ll go in, she’ll wow them and she’ll get out of the way,” Sanchez said.

But that may not sell all of her supporters on an Obama-Biden ticket. A NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released this week found that only half of Clinton supporters are backing the Illinois senator, while 21 percent said they will support McCain. More than a quarter remain undecided.

Still, it’s been weeks since vice presidential aspirations were seriously entertained among Clinton’s inner circle — and the senator has reportedly been telling friends she had little interest in the job.

The few public utterances on the topic from Hillaryland have been of the I-told-you-so variety. Former Clinton campaign manager Terry McAuliffe, who now backs the Illinois senator, recently said, “If [Obama] picks Hillary he gets her 18 million supporters and we would win in a cakewalk and control the White House for 16 years.”

Not everyone in Clinton’s orbit agrees.

“On a personal level, I’m disappointed by the decision,” said a former Clinton staffer. “But on a political level, I don’t think she’d be the best choice. It wouldn’t be a good match. … She brings some baggage and I think the fundamental problem is the Bill factor. The Obama campaign knew they couldn’t control him.”

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