For local fans of Clinton, campaign is personal and "extremely emotional"
It's hard for some local Clinton backers to think of voting for, let alone supporting, Obama after an impassioned, tense race.
Seattle Times staff reporter
When Shannon de Rubens, a stay-at-home mom, wears her Hillary Rodham Clinton button, she expects to be harassed. A woman in Bellevue even pretended to spit on her once. That's all part of the game, when you're a Clinton backer in a land of Obama bumper stickers.
"I hate to say it, but that sort of acrimony between strangers has been standard in this campaign, especially locally," said de Rubens, who lives in Issaquah and co-founded two grass-roots campaign groups, the Hillraisers, in the region with more than 100 members total.
"We feel undervalued, mistreated and bullied. It's been an emotional journey," she said.
In an impassioned race that's been shaped from the outset by personality and symbolism, it's no surprise the campaign has gotten personal.
But as the long primary season marches toward its conclusion — Oregon and Kentucky vote today — and Barack Obama tightens his grip on the Democratic nomination, will Clinton supporters be able to forget their squabbles and rally behind the man who was once their enemy?
De Rubens says no. She won't vote for Obama, even if that means not voting at all, unless he runs on a combined ticket with Clinton. She estimates that half the members of her grass-roots campaign teams won't either.
"His inexperience does more than irritate me, it frightens me," she said. "The job of the U.S. president is not an entry-level position."
In a recent Edison Media Group poll, roughly 60 percent of Clinton supporters who were interviewed after voting two weeks ago in Indiana and North Carolina said they wouldn't support Obama. About 30 percent said they'd rather vote for Republican John McCain than Obama, according to the poll.
But Matt Barreto, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Washington, says it's too early to take those numbers to heart.
"You can't ask a team as they're leaving the field what they think of the team that just beat them. When you get to the World Series, they'll all be rooting for the same league again," he said.
But Kimber McCreery, a Clinton organizer for the 34th legislative district in Southwest Seattle, says the relative calm of the national campaign — debates between Obama and Clinton were hardly rancorous — belie how tense relations between the camps have been on a local level.
"It's been like being in gunfight, with only a knife," she said.
In Washington state, Obama beat Clinton 2-to-1 in the February precinct caucuses, and Clinton supporters complained they weren't treated fairly by the large pro-Obama turnout.
Such deep divisions between fellow Democrats who live in the same neighborhoods has to do with the fact that both campaigns were about more than just values and issues, McCreery said.
"It's a man of color versus a woman. It's an entire identity being marketed," she said. "You can't separate that out. It's extremely emotional stuff."
Cindy Samuel-Zulch, 55, a Clinton supporter from Clyde Hill, gave money to a presidential campaign for the first time in her life, partly because she wanted to help a female candidate.
She said many middle-aged and older women who grew up during the feminist movement, and have struggled with issues of equality in the classroom and in the work force their entire lives, look to Clinton as a role model and hero.
"Hillary is my peer. She's experienced a lot of the same things I have," said Samuel-Zulch, who said she may hold her nose and vote for Obama if he gets the nod.
"Some of us grew up at a time when there wasn't Title IX, where women did not get the same benefits as men in school," Samuel-Zulch said.
"When you see a strong, intelligent woman who has succeeded despite of all that, it's a powerful thing. I don't know if the younger generation of women really ever appreciated the historical significance of that."
Nobu Sanusi, 28, a high-school teacher in Kirkland and a staunch Clinton advocate, says she and fellow Clinton supporters have felt disheartened and betrayed by women who did not back Clinton.
"What's really sad is she's not really getting the female vote. I don't understand why women don't support women. I think that's really upsetting," she said.
De Rubens, 35, who worked at Microsoft for a decade, said she's found that many members of her Hillraisers groups have "related to [Clinton] on a deeply personal level, as mothers, and as women who have worked in a male-dominated fields."
She compares Obama's quick ascendancy in the national Democratic Party with some young men's quick ascendancy in the corporate world, while "women are not getting promoted, but doing all the work."
"Somewhere along the way, her [Clinton's] success became our success. I have adopted her in my gut. Before this campaign started, I wouldn't have seen that as a woman's issue, but now I do," she said. "When something happens to her that seems unfair, I feel it like it happened to me."
Dustin Nelson, 31, of West Seattle, who traveled to Oregon several times to volunteer for Clinton there, said the men he's met on the campaign trail tend to react to Clinton's campaign with "knee-jerk, hateful reactions."
"They'll call her a bitch. Or say she's evil incarnate. They come up with these horrible names that you just don't hear men getting called," he said. "With Hillary, everything's personal."
Shaun Shaffer, 29, a Web developer from White Center, said Seattle Democrats have accused him of being a racist for not supporting Obama. "In this campaign, you couldn't just be for or against a candidate," he said.
As a result, this primary has "left a bad taste," Shaffer said.
Shaffer said the only way he'll vote for Obama is if the candidate chooses Clinton as his running mate.
Linda Mitchell, president of the National Women's Political Caucus of Washington, said many local Hillary supporters "feel like they've been treated as second-class citizens."
"There are hard feelings, definitely. There is a lot of anger — a lot of anger — about some of the late endorsements, McDermott's [endorsement of Obama], and all that," she said.
The results of such highly personal intraparty combat will be tricky for Democrats, said Paul Berendt, former chairman of the Washington State Democratic Party.
"Regardless of who the nominee is, a significant effort will need to be made by the other camp to reach out," said Berendt, who will be a Clinton delegate at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this summer.
"If that doesn't happen, there could be a hemorrhaging of votes. One shouldn't underestimate it."
That said, this race has not been nearly as divisive as some primary campaigns in the past, he said. Negative ads have been limited and the debates generally have stayed on the issues.
"If people think this is acrimonious, they haven't been paying attention," he said.
In the meantime, neither Clinton, nor her supporters, are talking about quitting.
"She shouldn't give up the fight just because that's what the boys tell her to do," said Nancyhelen Fischer, retired chairwoman of the National Women's Political Caucus of Washington.
"She's a fighter, and so long as she's in, we're fighting with her."
In other words, it's not over 'til the lady in the pantsuit sings.
Haley Edwards: 206-464-2745 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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