Some Md. officials lukewarm to Obama

As Clinton backers steer toward apparent nominee, a few signal desire to cast votes for New York senator during roll call

Election 2008

August 26, 2008|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,david.nitkin@baltsun.com

DENVER - Hillary Clinton's staunchest Maryland supporters are saying the right things as the Democratic Party prepares to nominate Barack Obama this week, trumpeting party unity and a chance to make history.

But an aftertaste of regret lingers behind their words, raising questions about how hard Clinton backers will work during the next 70 days to see their primary rival elected.

"I never thought when I graduated from college in 1965 that I would end my life without seeing a woman president," said Maryland state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, a Clinton superdelegate. But that's now a strong possibility, which Kopp finds "quite disturbing."

Clinton will address the national convention tonight in a prime speaking role that was negotiated as a consolation prize for her razor-thin loss in the primaries.

Tomorrow, she is scheduled to speak privately to Kopp and other pledged delegates chosen through primaries, likely releasing them from their obligations.

Nonetheless, the Obama managers in charge of counting Maryland votes said that as of yesterday, up to 10 of Clinton's 46 pledged delegates have indicated that they may cast votes for Clinton during the formal roll call.

One of them is Mary H. Boergers, a former state senator and gubernatorial candidate from Montgomery County who said she is offended by pressure from Obama supporters for a unanimous vote.

If the situation were reversed and Obama was the runner-up, there would be an outcry if his delegates were told they should vote for Clinton, Boergers said.

Nothing Clinton says tonight or tomorrow will change Boergers' mind, she said, because she wants Marylanders in her district to know that "their votes count, and their voices are heard."

Clinton's praise for Obama at recent campaign appearances "doesn't always translate directly to her supporters," Boergers said, adding that there is "a real possibility" that many Clinton backers decline to campaign aggressively for Obama.

Polls show that about a third of Clinton's primary voters harbor reservations about the Obama candidacy.

Maryland is expected to deliver its electoral votes to Obama, but the level of enthusiasm of Clinton supporters might have an impact in the swing states of Virginia and Pennsylvania, where many Marylanders will be dispatched.

Clinton's base includes many women, who make up a majority of Democratic Party registrants and who are disproportionately represented among the workers who knock on doors and make telephone calls for get-out-the-vote drives.

Obama has relied on new Internet-based outreach to get voters to the polls. But Kopp and others said that the more traditional techniques will be needed for Democrats to win. Many Clinton backers are loyalists who have toiled in party politics for decades, and their level of passion for Obama is in question.

"There are a lot of cranky Hillary supporters," said Nancy Floreen, a Clinton delegate and member of the Montgomery County Council.

Several of Maryland's most prominent Democrats supported Clinton during the primary, and have spend the past two months mending fences with Obama's team.

"When you work really hard for somebody, it is disappointing and tough when they don't win," said former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a Clinton backer. "There are a number of people who are feeling a sense of loss. But I think the Obama campaign has made a real effort to reach out, and I think that during the convention, Hillary has been terrific just saying over and over again, 'We are supporting Obama.' "

Gov. Martin O'Malley, another Clinton backer, said the tension between the camps is less than he anticipated. He will cast his delegate vote for Obama.

"I think that the level of animosity is far less this year than there was in 1984," when the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson's candidacy energized black voters but left many feeling angry afterward, the governor said. "The animosity there did not end with the convention, and it continued on through the general election."

"That was a long primary contest too. This one, there is far less rancor."

Reports of uprising among Clinton backers are overblown, said Del. Maggie L. McIntosh of Baltimore, a Clinton delegate. The volume increased late last week with word that Clinton had not been vetted as a potential running mate.

"I think the national press is stoking it a bit more than what is going on down on the ground," McIntosh said.

In conversations with friends, McIntosh acknowledges that Obama supporters offer compelling arguments: that his candidacy is just as historic as Clinton's, and that he represents a new era in politics.

Still, she said, "it does hurt a bit" that she may not get a chance to cast a vote as delegate for a woman presidential nominee.

She plans to back Obama when the count is taken.

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