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Campaigns Rush to Court Clinton’s Fla. Supporters

October 1, 2008 at 6:35 PM EDT
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Sen. Hillary Clinton held a strong foothold in the key state of Florida during the primaries -- and her supporters are not yet running to either presidential ticket. Judy Woodruff reports on efforts by the Obama and McCain campaigns to court former Clinton supporters.

JIM LEHRER: And to our final campaign report from Florida. Judy Woodruff looks at where the former supporters of Hillary Clinton have landed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: When Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin showed up recently at The Villages, a retirement community north of Orlando, tens of thousands of people turned out. There was a buzz of excitement not seen before she was added to the ticket last month.

CAROL HUGHES: I thought she was wonderful today. Look at the other people that we’ve had in there. I mean, you can go back to Abraham Lincoln. He came from a farm. What’s the matter with her being the governor of Alaska? I think it’s a great accomplishment.

JAMES SPORL: She’s honest, and she just says what she is, doesn’t try to say what you want to hear.

DEBBY RADFORD: I was 100 percent for McCain, but I wasn’t jazzed. I’ve been here for Fred Thompson; I’ve been here for Giuliani; and I’ve been here for Romney. And nothing compares to this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We didn’t run into any former supporters of Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton in this crowd, but Republican organizers say they are finding them, especially since Palin was introduced.

GREG TRUAX, McCain Campaign Volunteer: Well, the first day, we saw a large number of volunteers come into the office wanting to volunteer. They were saying that they had a connection with Gov. Palin. They were excited to see that Sen. McCain had added a woman to the ticket.

JIM GREER, Chair, Republican Party of Florida: Democrat women from the Democrat side, the independent side, they’re coming out to support Sarah Palin. I met some today that said, “I just want to tell you, Chairman, I’m a Democrat.”

Clinton's pull in Florida

JUDY WOODRUFF: It's a sensitive subject for Democrats, especially here in Florida, where Hillary Clinton ran well ahead of Barack Obama in the January primary. Neither campaigned here, after a messy squabble with the national party over the early primary date and a threat not to seat Florida convention delegates.

University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus says she still runs into women who supported Hillary Clinton and are upset by what happened.

SUSAN MACMANUS, University of South Florida: They were so enthused that she would be the first woman president, it's kind of hard to stomach, especially when they look on the other side and see a woman on the ticket.

So Hillary has got a lot she can do still here in Florida. She's got to pull these people back over to the Democratic side. And, you know, reluctantly, she has to convince them to vote for the Obama ticket.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sen. Clinton has campaigned in Florida twice for Sen. Obama, and the campaign says she'll be returning soon.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: I believe this country is worth fighting for. That's why I got up every morning and did my best to make my case to the American people.

We fell a little short, but I will never quit fighting for America. And that's why I am fighting to elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States.

Disappointed Clinton supporters

ANNIE GOODRICH, Democratic McCain Supporter: Hillary, I'm sorry. I know you have to do this. You think it's part of your Democratic duty and you have to do this. But I cannot support you in that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For one pair of Hillary Clinton supporters, though, retirees Annie Goodrich and Frank Cabo, there'll be no convincing.

FRANK CABO, Democratic McCain Supporter: I voted for Hillary. We won Florida. And yet we didn't know we would even be counted until the convention. That is wrong, wrong, wrong.

ANNIE GOODRICH: We just don't want to hear "hope" and "change" but not know what he means by that. I feel, if he's elected, we will have a socialist, welfare-dominated state, and we don't need that in our country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But Obama state director Steve Schale contends there are very few voters like Goodrich and Cabo.

STEVE SCHALE, State Director, Obama Florida Campaign: The Clintons are very popular in Florida. They always have been. The largest margin of any presidential election since 1988 in Florida was Bill Clinton's 6-point win in 1996.

They've spent a lot of time in Florida and obviously have a great history here. And, again, we feel like, as Democrats look at this race and they understand that the battle over the future of the country is the most important battle we can have, we're finding more and more Democrats coming home.

And, again, you know, the institutional Clinton support here in Florida has been fantastic in helping us identify where we have trouble areas and where we need to work. But, again, I'm confident that on Election Day we're going to be in really good shape.

Recruiting Obama voters

JUDY WOODRUFF: It's no coincidence that former President Clinton showed up in Orlando today for his first appearance on behalf of Sen. Obama.

BILL CLINTON, Former President of the United States: He'd be a lot better for Florida. This is a young state. It is an increasingly diverse state.

There's a great article in the paper today, just talking -- one of the national papers, talking about the increasing diversity just of Florida's Hispanic population, never mind -- never mind all the rest of it.

You need a president who understands that you are a microcosm of America's future and the world's present.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Obama campaign has also recruited to their cause former loyal Clinton supporters like Ana Cruz, who helped organize Florida for the New York senator.

ANA CRUZ, Former Hillary Clinton Supporter: It was somewhat heartbreaking right after we didn't win the primary. But with that being said, there's too much at stake here to lick our wounds for too long and too much at stake here to not be supportive.

Trust me: Barack Obama has far more in common with Hillary Clinton than John McCain will ever. And at the end of the day, this is about Supreme Court nominations, this is about struggling working-class families, this is about our economy, this is about the war in Iraq, and this is about change and hope.

Appealing to women voters

JUDY WOODRUFF: But John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate complicated Obama's effort to appeal to Hillary Clinton supporters and other women who considered voting Democratic.

It's led Obama to run TV spots in Florida and a few other critical states designed to appeal directly to women voters.

WOMAN IN AD: John McCain opposed a law to give women equal pay for equal work.

JUDY WOODRUFF: University of Miami President Donna Shalala, former secretary of health and human services in the Clinton administration, and a good friend of the Clintons, argues very few women who supported Hillary Clinton are likely to turn around and vote Republican.

DONNA SHALALA, President, University of Miami: Remember, her core of voters are the core of the Democratic Party. I do not see them going to John McCain, and I don't think that Sarah Palin pulls them in.

There are too many differences in terms of public policy between the two candidates at the end of the day. And she has sent the clearest message to her supporters and is campaigning wherever Sen. Obama has asked her to campaign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Even so, the University of South Florida's Susan MacManus insists it is critical for Sen. Clinton to revisit Florida as much as possible.

So what is your -- again, what is your sense of how many there are of these disaffected -- or former Hillary Clinton supporters who are looking at the other party?

SUSAN MACMANUS, University of South Florida: My guess is, you know, maybe 1 percent to 2 percent. That's probably a little bit high. But even 0.5 percent in a divided state is going to be a problem for Obama campaign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: With polls showing a volatile race in Florida, every voter group, including supporters of Hillary Clinton, will be carefully cultivated by both campaigns between now and Election Day.