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Clinton Supporters Discuss Their Role at Convention

August 26, 2008 at 6:15 PM EDT
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Democrats of all stripes have converged on Denver for this week's Democratic convention -- many of whom were Hillary Clinton supporters. Leading up to Clinton's convention speech Tuesday, delegates reflect on the former presidential candidate and rival of Barack Obama.
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RAY SUAREZ: Hillary Clinton toured the convention floor this afternoon in advance of her primetime address. Many delegates hope she’ll help unite her supporters with Senator Obama’s.

Outside the convention hall, Clinton loyalists held a rally. They wanted the New York senator to be the vice presidential nominee.

At their hotel this morning, the Ohio delegates talked about the need for party unity. Clinton easily won Ohio’s primary. Delegates like Cleveland attorney Melanie Shakarian dispute media reports that the party is divided.

MELANIE SHAKARIAN, Cleveland: I supported the candidate who didn’t win in the end, and that’s OK. And I’m proud to support Barack Obama. And I hope that the media hype surrounding the Hillary delegates who supposedly are abdicating from the party, I hope it’s a lot of hype, because I certainly don’t feel that way.

RAY SUAREZ: So you don’t know, for instance, people who, like you, were for the senator and now are not sure whether they’re going to vote Democratic in the fall?

MELANIE SHAKARIAN: No, I don’t. And I’m from Ohio’s 10th district, which was very strong for Hillary Clinton. And all of my friends who worked with me on the campaign and people who I know supported her are all staunchly behind Barack Obama. So it’s — it’s a mystery to me.

RAY SUAREZ: First-time delegate and Cleveland Councilwoman Sabra Pierce Scott.

SABRA PIERCE SCOTT, Cleveland: Well, I want to hear that she is committed to assuring the victory for the Democratic Party first and that she is willing to work with some of her supporters who are not necessarily completely on board as of today, that by November we will be able to move the party forward.

I do not think that we are divided; I just think that we are working to blend both the Hillary supporters with the Obama supporters.

RAY SUAREZ: Many delegates said the economic downturn could help unite the Democrats. Toledo delegate Wade Kapszukiewicz believes Obama must win Ohio to win the presidency.

WADE KAPSZUKIEWICZ, Toledo, Ohio: There have not been many more states in our country more adversely affected by the Bush-McCain economy of the last eight years than Ohio. I think the way we win Ohio is by focusing on those meat-and-potato economic issues: jobs, health care, especially jobs.

RAY SUAREZ: Many female voters we spoke to said the economic crisis is their top concern. Steubenville, Ohio delegate and former state legislator Eileen Krupinski.

EILEEN KRUPINSKI, Steubenville, Ohio: We’ve lost jobs. We’ve lost businesses. Our young people have to move to find other job opportunities.

RAY SUAREZ: That was the focus of a roundtable discussion here today led by Michelle Obama and vice presidential nominee Senator Joe Biden.

MICHELLE OBAMA, Wife of Sen. Barack Obama: If there’s one thing that I know that we can all agree on it’s that policies that support working women and families aren’t just about politics. These issues are personal.

As Barack and I have traveled around the country for the past 19 months, we’ve heard so many stories of families trying to hold it together without enough support.

RAY SUAREZ: Ohio’s 141 delegates, along with more than 4,000 others, will hear that message again tonight.

Connecting activists to the voters

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz
D-Fla.
The vast majority of Hillary Clinton supporters that I have spoken to in my home state, across the country, are wholeheartedly behind Barack Obama.

RAY SUAREZ: For more on Hillary Clinton and the economy, we turn to Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Representative Loretta Sanchez of California. Both endorsed Clinton during the primaries.

And you saw that Ohio delegate, Representative Wasserman Schultz, say it's a mystery to me why people keep asking about disaffected Clinton supporters. Is it a mystery to you?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), Florida: Well, that's the political intrigue that helps drive the news media. But I have to agree with her. The vast majority of Hillary Clinton supporters that I have spoken to in my home state, across the country, are wholeheartedly behind Barack Obama.

Some of them, who need to maybe learn a little bit more about Senator Obama's positions on issues, will get there a little bit more slowly. But I really haven't talked to anyone here at the convention who isn't behind Barack Obama 100 percent.

RAY SUAREZ: Representative Sanchez, new numbers came out over the weekend that show that, while Clinton supporters were ready to vote for Barack Obama by 75 percent in June when Senator Obama clinched the nomination, only 66 percent of Clinton supporters say that now. What happened?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D), California: Gosh, I don't know what happened between then and now. I couldn't agree more with my colleague, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, that we are here in Denver and that the people who are the political leaders, who are the elected leaders of the Democratic Party, who are the delegates here, the activists, that we all understand that, when we leave on Thursday, we have one job, and that is to win the White House back for the American people. That means put a Democrat there.

But that's different. That's different than the audience that is out in the country. In the country, there are disaffected voters who, quite frankly, voted for Clinton and don't know Barack Obama, don't know enough about him, are seeing way too many commercials from McCain that are not very nice, quite frankly.

And so it's our job and it's Barack's job to go out, and to educate, and to persuade Americans to put him in the White House.

RAY SUAREZ: Tonight, Senator Clinton is going to say, quote, "Work is hard for Barack Obama as you did for me." And Representative Sanchez makes the distinction between the delegates, the activists in the room, and the people outside the room. But they're both important audiences, right?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Incredibly important. We are going to have the activists leave this convention united, and fired up, and excited, because they are all singularly focused on moving this country in a new direction and helping elect Barack Obama so we can do that.

And then we have the activists who are not here and the rank-and-file voters. The rank-and-file voters do need to help be educated about Barack Obama's positions on the issues, like that he wants to bring the troops home from this misguided war in Iraq, like that he wants to establish universal access to health care, that he wants to invest in alternative energy research, and truly wean ourselves off of our addiction to foreign oil.

Those are the important issues to the American people that John McCain is simply wrong on, and that's what's going to drive us to the White House on November 4th.

Economy will make or break votes

Rep. Loretta Sanchez
D-Calif.
[W]here I live, probably our homes have gone down about 40 percent to 50 percent. One out of every two homes up for sale is foreclosed on.

RAY SUAREZ: The theme for tonight, Representative Sanchez -- the economy in Southern California, you have people watching the value of their house decline by the day.

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ: Yes. You know, where I live, probably our homes have gone down about 40 percent to 50 percent. One out of every two homes up for sale is foreclosed on.

People who got money together and were able -- were afraid they weren't going to get into the market because the prices of homes went up so much got into a home and now they're losing it. And now they have worse credit than when they go to rent. Now it's even more difficult. So, yes, we are in distress, even in what is considered a wealthy state like California.

So what the Congress does and what type of a person is in the White House is incredibly important to the people I represent. And it's incredibly important to all Americans.

RAY SUAREZ: And south Florida, how's it looking there?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Oh, it's not looking any better. In fact, it's looking worse.

We have the second highest drop in property values in the country. We have a record number of foreclosures. People are struggling. They are struggling to deal with the gas prices, with the spiraling cost of food.

And, you know, there is a very stark contrast between Barack Obama's position on the issues and the Democratic agenda and John McCain's position on the issues.

John McCain refuses to support funding for universal pre-K. How are working families supposed to go out to work and make sure the children are cared for if we don't establish universal pre-K? How are those kids going to finally achieve the American dream and reach their potential without it?

What about the price of gas? I'm a minivan mom. When I drive my car around, the last time I drove my kids to soccer practice, on the way, I filled up my tank with gas, and it cost me $76.

Floridians are struggling with the economy. And we've got to have a president like Barack Obama who understands what working families are going through, not someone who doesn't even know how many houses he has.

RAY SUAREZ: When an election arrives in the middle of that struggle that you've both described, does it drive down turnout? Does it entice people to make a change? How does it affect the kind of campaign that you have to run in the fall?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ: Well, I believe that it's very difficult, when people are worried about putting bread on the table, to really be thinking about the election.

So that's what my job is. And that's what Debbie's job is. That's what our job is, to go out and make them realize that, under Democratic presidents, like the previous one we had, President Clinton, who inherited a terrible fiscal situation from a Republican president, and he turned it around, and he brought the most prosperous time we've seen in a long time, eight glorious years where everybody really was better off in that economy.

Then we had eight years of President Bush that has driven us to the point where all of us don't even recognize the America we're in today. So it's our job, it's our job to go, and to find the voters, and to persuade them that it is so important for their voice to be counted.

RAY SUAREZ: California Representative Loretta Sanchez, Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, thank you both.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you.

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ: Thank you.

RAY SUAREZ: Jim?

Obama must prove he can win

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
[W]hat the job that Barack Obama has to do is to lay out a realistic plan to Americans, and especially to the Clinton voters.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, thanks, Ray.

And back to Mark Shields and David Brooks.

David, picking up on what those two congresswomen said, is it -- it's now Barack Obama's job to do exactly what they said -- that she has to do, they have to do, which is make the case where they can do about it, in Obama's case, what he can do about all the economic problems people are having, right?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: For the unity of the party, he has to prove he's a winner. You know, if you talk to the Clinton delegates who are unhappy -- and they're there. Most of the delegates here have been fed these talking points and they sound like a North Korean pep rally.

But the people who are Clinton delegates, it's not that they're against Barack Obama. Some of them don't think he can win, so they're for him. They just think he's politically the wrong answer for the party.

But if he shows he can win, and if he gets up in the polls, then all this talk about disunity will be totally gone. So it's all about winning; it's all about showing that he can get this lead in the polls. I don't think it's about ideology or anything like that.

JIM LEHRER: But is it really about the economy then? I mean, are we talking in all these other things, but the basic issue that Barack Obama has to speak to, if he's going to win this thing, is the economy?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Is the economy, Jim. Since the year George Bush was elected, there are 6 million more American families in poverty than there were then. There are 7 million more Americans without health insurance.

It's the only time in American history we've had an economic recovery where the median family income in the country has declined by almost $2,200 among non-elderly households.

So what the job that Barack Obama has to do is to lay out a realistic plan to Americans, and especially to the Clinton voters. Among the people who would vote for Hillary Clinton and not vote for Barack Obama, they are disproportionately women voters, Catholic voters. They earn less than $50,000.

They're more liberal and moderate than they are conservative, even Obama's supporters, and they're more Democratic than not Democratic. And those -- you know, they're going to vote Democrat for Congress and the Senate. That's where their hearts are. They don't like George Bush. They think the country has gone in the wrong direction.

He's going to lay out a case to these people that he knows what he's going to do about the economy, he understands what they're going through, and he's going to do something about it specifically. I think the green jobs is part of it they'll lay out tonight.

Winning back Democratic Party

David Brooks
New York Times
[T]he people [Obama's] got to really work on are the white working class in places like Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

JIM LEHRER: And that's the key to it, right, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I mean, let's look at the people who he's got to -- the people he's got to really work on are the white working class in places like Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. And those people voted for George W. Bush, white, working-class voters, by 23 percentage points.

Some people think it's because they got hoodwinked by framing the issues a certain way or a certain ad or because they're voting against their economic self-interest. They're not idiots. They distrust government. They don't think government can deliver the goods for the cost it -- for the amount it costs.

So he's got to show he's not a traditional liberal on economics and that the things he's recommending are different than the things they've already rejected, which John Kerry, Al Gore, and Walter Mondale recommended.

And that's actually kind of difficult to do. I think he can do it. And I think some of the health care issues can do it, and some of those issues can do it. But the fact is, those people have not been voting for the Democratic Party for a long time.

JIM LEHRER: And Ohio really is a bellwether state, is it not, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: It is. There's been no Democrat elected to the White House who did not carry Ohio, with one exception, John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1960, when America was a different place, when Democrats carried states like Texas, South Carolina, and Georgia, Louisiana, which are not necessarily priority targets for Barack Obama.

In spite of President Jimmy Carter's optimism about carrying South Carolina last night, as he expressed in his interview, it's probably not one of the 18 target states, battleground states that -- Ohio is really Ground Zero.

JIM LEHRER: And is it Ground Zero on the economy in Ohio? Whoever makes the case is going to get Ohio probably?

MARK SHIELDS: It's awfully hard to make any economic argument for Ohio on the part of John McCain.

JIM LEHRER: OK.