early and often

How Clinton’s Supporters Might Be Obama’s Next Big Problem

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Last night, Hillary Clinton again picked up the cudgel for “hard-working” Democrats, declaring that she wanted her supporters “to be respected, to be heard and no longer to be invisible.” But in extending her campaign beyond the point of mathematical viability, Clinton is allowing her followers to assimilate even more fully the attacks that she and Bill have mounted on Barack Obama. With both Clintons’ full blessing, many of Hillary’s most ardent fans now view Obama not only as unelectable but illegitimate. And now it’s going to be hard for anyone, even Clinton herself, to bring them back into the Democratic fold during this campaign.

Online, the Clintonistas’ passion, frustration, and refugee status have fused into an identification with their candidate fully as powerful as that of Obamafans. Mocked if not shunned at many widely read liberal sites such as Daily Kos, Clinton backers now gather at new watering holes, such as Hillary’s Bloggers, a site founded by a former Kos diarist named Alegre. And they express their emotions in the language of post-sixties identity politics, protesting categorical wrongs to their civil rights. The result is an Internet Hillaryland full of intense grievances and extraordinarily wishful thinking. “She’s not backing down because she doesn’t f%&*(ing have to,” Riverdaughter wrote last night at the Confluence. “Hillary Clinton made history tonight and nothing will ever be the same again.”

The most popular pro-Hillary sites are filled with venom for Obama, who is often sneeringly referred to as “Barky” or “messiah,” and an abiding bitterness toward the Democratic Party. At Taylor Marsh’s site, an epicenter for Clinton support, last weekend’s Rules and Bylaws Committee decisions sent commenters into apoplexy: “In Illinois, he eliminated the competition. In FL, he eliminated the voters. In MI, he stole the voters. Thank God, he is the hope and change candidate. Otherwise, how low would he go?” And: “It was bad enough when the Republicans started rigging the general. Now the DNC is rigging the primaries. What power do our votes have now?”

At its worst, the Clintonistas’ vehemence has turned downright scary. On May 30, Larry Johnson noted that the Secret Service was investigating two threats posted against Obama on his No Quarter site, and told his readers: “While I don’t believe Barack is qualified to be President, nothing justifies or warrants a death threat. Please play nice.” (The next day, Johnson’s fellow blogger Susan UnPC wrote, “John McCain is a stand-up man. But Barack Obama is a SNAKE IN THE GRASS who is using 1) BULLIES, 2) COERCIVE TACTICS, 3) the THREAT OF VIOLENCE, and 4) PROMISES OF BIG CASH INCOME to FORCE his nomination on the Democratic party.”)

All this virulence isn’t just Internet howling. It appears to be the leading edge of opposition to Obama’s candidacy: a mostly female, nearly all-white bloc that is growing in solidarity rather than receding at the end of the primary season. Obama recently has built a solid advantage among Democrats in national polls, but only because of a huge gender gap within the party: Obama leads Clinton 57 percent to 37 percent among men, but trails her 49 to 45 percent among women, according to Gallup data released yesterday. And only 43 percent of white women view Obama favorably while 49 percent look at him unfavorably, according to the Pew Research Center. That net rating of minus six is down sharply from plus twenty in February, when 56 percent of white women viewed him favorably.

Further, Obama’s white-women problem — far more than any purported weakness among working-class voters — is set to cause him trouble against McCain in the fall. Among women, Obama needs liberal professionals as well as suburban values voters to carry states such as Missouri and Pennsylvania, but he’s not getting either group. Nationwide, white women are backing McCain over Obama 49 percent to 40 percent, according to Gallup. And the Democratic delegate fights seem to be a drag on Obama in Michigan, which is trending unusually strongly toward McCain.

At this point, even a concession speech isn’t going to wash away the resentments and hopes at play among Hillary’s biggest believers, and Clinton shows no signs of giving one, anyway. The Clintonistas are ideologically committed and emotionally wounded — just the kind of voters who could withhold support from the Democratic nominee “on principle” in numbers big enough to threaten Obama in several key states. And there’s no way he wants to toss them the one sop that might mollify them — a Hillary vice-presidency. For months, we all wondered what African-Americans and young voters might do if superdelegates trumped them. Now we — and Obama — get to ask the same thing about white women. —Peter Keating

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For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.

How Clinton’s Supporters Might Be Obama’s Next Big Problem