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Earl Ofari Hutchinson Headshot

Hillary's Hard Obama Sell Job

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The incessant chatter, gossip, and innuendos is still flying around about a stealth campaign by Hillary Clinton to undermine Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama's White House bid. It's nothing but hot air. Clinton will be as good as her word and do everything she can to prod the legion of her still very diehard backers to get behind Obama. She has little choice. Despite the rifts with some top Democrats during her primary wars with Obama, she never stopped being the consummate party team player. There's also a very practical reason for her going full throttle for Obama. She would risk losing party money, support, and goodwill, a freeze out from Obama's administration, and be relegated to a permanent pariah in the party if she didn't.

But it's not just about party loyalty, self interest and the colossal personal and campaign debt she's incurred. She also wants desperately to get the first Democratic administration in nearly a decade back in the White House. Anything less stirs stark terror in her and other Democrats of at least four more years of Bush policies through Republican rival John McCain.

But a smiling, glad handing Clinton at the convention and on the trail for Obama is one thing, convincing the nearly half of her backers that they should sing Obama's praises is another thing.
That's the towering obstacle that she and Obama are up against. But that's not the worst of it. In a convention start poll by USA Today/ Gallup, nearly a quarter of Hillary Democrats were wishy-washy on supporting him, and worse still, thirty percent of Hillary Democrats are adamant that they will either back McCain, or someone else, or stay home. If they mean what they say that will translate into millions of lost Democrat votes, and many of those lost votes are in the must win swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.

The bad bad news is that the number of Hillary backers that turn thumbs down on Obama hasn't budged since the end of the Democratic primaries in June. McCain, of course, wasted no time in jumping all over their perceived Obama turn off. He has furiously courted them in ads and in stump pitches. The real danger to Obama is that if he losses, he'll be beaten as much by Democrats that jump ship, as Republicans.

This wouldn't be the first time this happened. White blue collar workers fed up with busing, urban riots, student lawlessness, and liberal permissiveness fled the Democratic Party in droves in the 1968 presidential election. They continued their flight from the party in 1980s. The converted Democrats provided a comfortable cushion of victory for GOP presidents Nixon and Reagan.

It will take more than carefully scripted and orchestrated TV spots from Clinton blasting McCain and imploring America to get behind Obama to win this crop of recalcitrant Democrats over. The bitter truth is that many did not vote for her because they liked her and her policies. They simply didn't like Obama. She was the only other Democrat on the ticket in the primary contests. And the reasons they don't like him -- racial fear, distrust, uncertainty, his inexperience, patriotism questions, and a too liberal voting record - won't magically vanish just because Clinton tells them they should.

That's only one problem. The other is the attitude of some on Team Obama, many in the media, and a wide segment of Obama backers. They plainly don't like her, and see her as a self-serving politician who did much to cause the very divisions in the party that have caused Obama to stagnate, even lose ground to McCain in the polls.

The blame finger was still pointed hard at her on the very eve of the convention when many Clinton doubters said that they would watch and listen to her speech even more closely than Obama's acceptance speech. They'll be listening for any hint of less than Messianic passion for Obama. That puts her in a double bind. She's blamed for the party rift, and now she's being asked to patch it up.
When Clinton leaves Denver she'll be expected to implore, massage, and cajole the doubting and even hostile Democrats to get over their Obama phobia and jump firmly on the Obama bandwagon. It'll be a hard sell. The election could just depend on how many buy her sell job.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How the GOP Can Keep the White House, How the Democrats Can Take it Back (Middle Passage Press, August 2008).