Politics & Policy

Unions United for Unity Behind Hillary

With AFSCME, AFT, OPEIU, and SMART in the City of Brotherly Love.

Philadelphia — There is an intense struggle going on inside the ornate Grand Ballroom of the Park Hyatt Hotel at the corner of Walnut and Broad streets. Hillary Clinton will give her victory speech here in a couple of hours, and it’s not clear whether AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFT, the American Federation of Teachers, will have more signs and T-shirts spread throughout the crowd. AFSCME takes the early lead after workers haul in a giant box of green T-shirts, plus hundreds of green “AFSCME For Hillary” signs, at about 7:45. But AFT comes on strong when lots of red, white and blue “Hillary AFT” signs magically begin to appear in the crowd. There’s even a late surge of yellow “Hillary SMART Choice” signs, which you might think mean that voting for Hillary is a smart choice as a general proposition but actually convey the endorsement of the Sheet Metal, Air Rail and Transportation Workers — SMART.

#ad# Union membership, especially in this Democratic race in which organized labor is deeply divided, can sometimes be tough on your loyalties. Certainly most of the union members here — everyone I meet seems to be a teacher — are true Hillary supporters. But not all. I talk to a man who goes by the name G.P., who is here on behalf of the OPEIU — the Office & Professional Employees International Union. OPEIU endorsed Clinton last November, and G.P., who is from Georgia, is here to hand out Hillary T-shirts. We start talking — I have to admit I approach him because he’s black, and there are very few black faces in this crowd — and it becomes clear he’s doing his job, he’s loyal to his union’s position, but his heart isn’t quite in it.

“Do you personally support Hillary?”

“Yes, I think Hillary is a great candidate, and I also think Barack Obama is a great candidate,” G.P. says. “I think both of them would do great things for the Democratic party.”

“Would it be OK with you if either one wins?”

“With me? Like I said, I would support either Democratic candidate — anybody who gets elected to run, that would be the person I would support.”

“Did you vote in the Georgia primary?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Who’d you vote for?”

“Like I said — ” We both begin to laugh, because it seems pretty clear who he voted for. “In Georgia, the primary was decided overwhelmingly for Obama, and, once again, you’ve got two great candidates, two great people, and whichever person wins, I’ll be really happy with that. My union, OPEIU, really supports Hillary, and we’re all behind her 100 percent.”

No doubt Clinton will take all the support she can get, voluntary or not. Especially here, in Philadelphia, with its big African-American population. According to exit polls, Obama won 89 percent of the black vote in Pennsylvania — that’s actually down a bit from his results in some other states — and much of that was in this city. Clinton, on the other hand, won 60 percent of the white vote. That’s a continuation of a black/white divide that has plagued this race nearly from the beginning.

In western Pennsylvania, where I spent the last couple of days, I talked to lots of white Clinton supporters who told me they would not vote for Obama if he were the nominee. A number of them seemed not so much pro-Hillary as anti-Obama. Here at the Park Hyatt, a Clinton volunteer tells me he spent the day knocking on doors in the white ethnic enclaves of north Philadelphia, and he got the same sort of reaction — lots of anti-Obama comments. Some of it was racial, which troubled him, but a vote is a vote.

I bring the subject up with Terry McAuliffe, Clinton’s top fundraiser and all-around booster. “I don’t like to hear that,” McAuliffe says. “I have said consistently that when people stop voting on June 3, we count Michigan and Florida — we’ve got to include those voters — I think at that point we need to begin to bring people together. It’s been a tough contest, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near as tough as it was in 1992. . . . We’ve got plenty of time to bring everybody together.” On Clinton’s terms, that is.

Speaking to reporters before the results come in — it was about 8:00 P.M. — McAuliffe downplays expectations for Clinton’s victory. “I’m with Sen. Obama,” he says. “Fifty plus one is a win. We were outspent three to one, they threw multiple kitchen sinks at her, negative mailing, negative television, and you know what? She still won.”

And she did, by the double-digit margin that seemed to be the threshold for a truly convincing victory. So what does it mean, now that Clinton has won Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, California, Texas, and Ohio — pretty much all the big states, other than Obama’s home state of Illinois? Her advisers throw Florida and Michigan in that list, too. Standing on the balcony of the Grand Ballroom, watching the proceedings below, Ann Lewis, another Clinton strategist, stresses that Clinton has won the states that a Democrat will have to win to prevail in November. But wouldn’t Obama win those states, too, if he were the nominee? Maybe not Florida, and maybe not Ohio, and maybe not Pennsylvania, Lewis says — and the Democratic candidate will need victories in at least some of those states to win.

Lewis doesn’t put it this way, but wouldn’t it seem a little odd to have a Democratic nominee who didn’t win New York, New Jersey, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas, not to mention Florida and Michigan?

Early Wednesday morning, after Clinton flies to Indiana to campaign for the May 6 primary there, her campaign sends out a memo entitled, “The Tide Is Turning.” Even though Obama poured millions of dollars into Pennsylvania, the memo says, he “again failed to win a state that will be vital to a Democratic victory in November and spurred new questions about his ability to beat John McCain. No candidate has ever had more resources or enjoyed the kind of momentum that Sen. Obama had in Pennsylvania.”

It’s true. But Obama has piled up delegates, in part by concentrating on places like Idaho, and Wyoming. Here in Philadelphia, that strategy frustrates the Clintonites: How could he win by putting together all those little bitty places? Yes, they’ll support Obama if it comes to it, most of them say. But they really, really don’t want to. “I think Obama will be a good candidate, maybe ten years from now,” a volunteer named Susan, who has come up from McLean, Va., tells me. “But he’s just not ready.”

 – Byron York, NR’s White House correspondent, is the author of The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President — and Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time.

Recommended

The Latest