Clinton urges infatuated Ohio fans to back Obama
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AKRON, Ohio -- The T-shirts told stories of an unfulfilled infatuation.
"Hillary Is My Home Girl," read one, the now-faded lettering framing a caricature of the New York senator.
"One of 18 Million," read another -- a reference to the number of votes Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton received in her epic, failed Democratic nomination battle against Sen. Barack Obama.
"I'm Hot for Hillary!" (on a man)
By the time the afternoon was over, dark sweat stains were spreading on some of those T-shirts, as roughly 1,500 partisans crowded into a sweltering school gymnasium to a salute to a candidate who dominated this region in the Ohio primary.
They listened and cheered as she urged them to transfer their ardor to the candidate she battled through the longest, most expensive primary fight in history.
"I want to thank all of you who supported me and worked so hard," she said. Drawing a wave of cheers, she added, "And I'm asking you now to work as hard for Barack and Joe as you worked for me."
A half-dozen random interviews in the crowd didn't turn up anyone who hadn't voted for the New York senator in the spring. The good news for an Obama campaign was that those same voters were uniform in saying they had now come around to Mr. Obama.
The good news for his Republican opponent was that several said they had Democratic friends who have yet to transfer their allegiance to the candidate Mrs. Clinton was touting yesterday.
"There are some, there are some, no question," said Susan Peresta of Akron of the Democratic holdouts. "I've been talking and talking to them."
Jill Geier, a student, was another Obama convert, but of her circle of friends, she said, "there's some resistance ... I couldn't even get anyone to come with me."
George Bush won Ohio in 2004 in a race so close that Sen. John F. Kerry delayed his concession until the next day just to be sure of the result. A shift of a handful of votes per precinct would have given the state and the national electoral vote lead to the Democrats.
Most post-convention polls have shown Sen. John McCain with a narrow advantage here. One of the few recent polls that found Mr. Obama in front, a Quinnipiac University survey, also showed that 28 percent of Mrs. Clinton's primary voters were now supporting the Republican.
Several polls have suggested that white working-class women now represent a now larger challenge to the Obama campaign with the addition of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to the GOP ticket.
"McCain now leads Obama in this group by 16 points, 53 percent to 37 percent, up from July, when white women backed McCain by only 5 points -- 44 percent to 39 percent," a new Newsweek poll says. "Twenty-four percent of these women say they are more inclined to vote for McCain now that he has a female running mate." And the Republican ticket is clearly aiming to win over Clinton supporters.
Over the years, Mrs. Clinton has borne an ample share of conservative criticism. With her husband, she's been accused of complicity in political wrongdoing and actual crimes up to and including drug-running and murder.
But suddenly, she's the Republicans' new best friend. Even before Mr. Obama locked up the nomination, Mr. McCain took a markedly more respectful tone toward her than toward Mr. Obama. Since Mr. McCain's choice of Ms. Palin as his running mate, Mrs. Clinton has been elevated further in Republican rhetoric.
In a bid to exploit lingering memories of primary combat, Republicans, including Ms. Palin, are publicly reverent on the subject of the cracks her supporters placed in the glass ceiling of politics. In parody, the two women's pioneering roles were linked the previous night as "Saturday Night Live" opened with a sketch featuring actors playing them.
Tina Fey, playing Ms. Palin, echoed the newfound complaints linking them as victims of sexism. (The actual Ms. Palin, by contrast, had once suggested that the Clinton campaign, in complaining of sexism, hadn't helped other female politicians.) A tight-lipped Amy Poehler, "SNL's" faux Hillary, described sexism as "an issue which I am surprised to hear people suddenly care about."
Speaking yesterday, Mrs. Clinton appeared uninterested in finding a place in the all-Palin, all-the-time rhetoric that has dominated political commentary lately. She barely mentioned the GOP vice presidential candidate and never specifically criticized her.
"No way; no how; no McCain; no Palin," she said in her most direct mention of the GOP figure.
The chief targets of her criticism were the policies of the Bush administration which she blamed for rising unemployment and a loss of manufacturing jobs overseas in working-class communities such as this one.
Mrs. Clinton accused the Bush administration of acting as though nothing can be done about such job losses. "That is what John McCain says," she continued, "It is not what Barack Obama and Joe Biden and the Democrats say."
There was some irony in Mrs. Clinton's use of the issue of exported jobs in advancing Mr. Obama's candidacy. It was that issue that Mr. Obama had tried to use as a silver bullet against her candidacy during the Ohio primary when he portrayed her as a champion of trade policies that had led to the flight of American jobs overseas.
But that was then, and this is seven weeks before the general election.
As her speech ended and the session broke up, many listeners sought refuge from the gym's rising temperatures with a quick dash to the exits. But others lingered at the rope line surrounding the makeshift stage, seeking handshakes, pictures and autographs.
The scene resembled countless other post-rally encounters over the last 19 months, in Iowa, New Hampshire and here in Ohio. For more than half an hour, a patient senator chatted smiled, and wrote a neat, script, "Hillary," on books and T-shirts. Only this time, some of the T-shirts said, "Obama."
Another female political leader, Gov. Janet Napolitano, of Arizona, campaigned in Pittsburgh yesterday for Mr. Obama, visiting in Baldwin where she lived from age 4 to 6 while her father worked at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; in Mt. Lebanon, where she met with Obama volunteers and a woman's group; and at Chatham University, where she got an earful from Obama supporters who think the Democrats need to fight more fiercely.
"It's frustrating to see so many lies perpetrated by the McCain campaign and not see a more forceful response," said Georgia Blotzer.
First Published September 15, 2008 12:00 am