Sunday, June 29, 2008

HRC courts media backlash

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There’s a motivational shift afoot in Hillary nation.

The legions of Hillary Rodham Clinton backers still investing their cash, energy and emotion into her faltering bid for the Democratic presidential nomination seem driven not by the reasonable expectation that she can beat Barack Obama, but by the emotional desire to see her through to the end of voting and stick it to those who have already written her off.

Clinton’s campaign is fanning the flames of that backlash — against the media, against superdelegates who recently backed Obama and against Obama himself. Aides hope to convert the sentiments into protest votes that could deliver landslide victories in West Virginia and Kentucky, Clinton strongholds that are among the next three states to cast ballots.

No matter how big Clinton wins in West Virginia, which votes Tuesday, or Kentucky, which heads to the polls May 20 along with Oregon — a likely Obama win — she won’t significantly cut into Obama’s lead in pledged delegates or popular votes.

But if Clinton can rack up victories equal to or larger than the gaudy 30-point leads she holds in most polls of West Virginia and Kentucky voters, it would help her campaign press its central case to uncommitted superdelegates. Clinton aides argue that Obama has trouble with the working-class and elderly white voters who make up big chunks of the electorates in those states, and whose support Clinton contends will be key if Democrats are to defeat the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

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The argument is unlikely to block Obama’s nomination, which is viewed as inevitable by an increasing number of pundits and superdelegates. Even Clinton — who in recent days has softened her attacks on Obama, pledged to work for party unity and reflected wistfully on the campaign — and many of her supporters seem to have come to grips with the likely reality, although they occasionally bristle when they hear it from others, particularly the media.

“I don’t care what they say,” said Terrie Weekly, a 52-year-old caterer waiting to greet Clinton on Sunday inside the First United Methodist Church in Huntington, where the New York senator took in the tail end of the service. “I’m going to vote for Hillary regardless because I want my voice to be heard.”

Sentiments like Weekly’s are common at Clinton events and sometimes make them feel less like campaign rallies than motivational seminars, where attendees block out negative realities and try to will positive outcomes.

Before a Friday night Clinton rally at Louisville’s convention center, Shirley Brown, a 56-year-old medical records worker, tightly clutched a Clinton campaign sign on her lap as she sat high in the bleachers.

“I can see where a lot of people think it’s over, but I don’t like to keep hearing it,” she said. “I just don’t want to see her give up, and I would like Kentucky to have a say.”

The next day, Clinton urged supporters, who had ponied up $100 or more to attend a rally at a midtown Manhattan hotel ballroom, to “just turn off the television, you will really enjoy this experience.”

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (N.Y.), a top Clinton backer, warmed up the midtown crowd, declaring journalists clueless in presenting Obama’s nomination as a fait accompli and chastising them for continually pestering Clinton about when she’ll quit the race.

“They don’t even know why we have conventions,” he said of members of the fourth estate. “They really can’t count, but they say math is against us.

“They don’t realize that this contest with two of the [most] historic [candidates] that we have ever had” has “millions of Americans … prepared to get involved.”

And Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, told voters during a campaign stop Friday in Madison, W.Va., that “all this stuff you are hearing about is an attempt to discourage you. That's what this is, pure and simple, hoping, ‘Well, Hillary can get 80 percent of the vote in West Virginia, and if only 100,000 people show up it is not enough.’ But if 600,000 people show up, and you say, 'We want a president,' then you will see the earth move.”

Media coverage suggesting Obama has wrapped up the nomination could have an effect on turnout in the six remaining contests, said Laurie Rhodebeck, a political science professor at the University of Louisville.

After West Virginia, Kentucky and Oregon, Puerto Rico — where Clinton is favored to win — votes June 1, and Montana and South Dakota — both of which are likely to go to Obama — votes June 3.

“It could cut both ways,” Rhodebeck said. “There are some people who are going to be so annoyed about being told [it’s over], they’ll be darned sure that they’re going to turn out to vote, if nothing else to prove the experts wrong. And they’ll be others — the typical marginal voter who is looking for any excuse not to come to the polls.”

Clinton supporters are “the group that’s most likely to be galvanized,” she said.

Nathan Smith, vice chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party and an uncommitted superdelegate, said supporters of both candidates in his state are miffed that the media has all but called the race before the Bluegrass State heads to the polls.

“Let me tell you, the people of Kentucky sure don’t see it as over,” Smith asserted. “I could care less what Wolf Blitzer thinks about this race.”

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