While no one expected his narrow defeat in New Hampshire, Barack Obama’s campaign rebounded yesterday – as the race heads to Nevada on January 19th. The Nevada chapter of SEIU, the Culinary Workers and UNITE-HERE all announced their endorsement of Obama – which will give him a serious ground game in the Silver State. A noontime rally at San Francisco City Hall was surprisingly upbeat and remarkably diverse – as District Attorney Kamala Harris rallied the crowd, while Congressman George Miller and Supervisor Aaron Peskin declared their endorsement. Meanwhile, the Hillary Clinton campaign lauded their new endorsement: Las Vegas Congresswoman Shelley Berkley – a moderate, pro-business Democrat with ties to the gambling industry (i.e., the bosses who employ members of UNITE-HERE.) It’s now looking like the race will go to Super Duper Tuesday on February 5th – with California likely to be the “swing state.”
Four years ago, Howard Dean lost Iowa and his campaign imploded. You certainly did not have new politicians endorsing him in the aftermath, and AFSCME even withdrew its support. Dean fired his campaign manager, Joe Trippi, and the campaign trotted out his wife – who had consciously avoided the limelight until then – to revive his fortunes. I was an active Dean supporter, and those were very depressing times – as we stood in denial praying for a comeback. By any comparison, the Obama campaign looks great.
Unlike Dean, Obama’s loss in New Hampshire was not his fault – but due to the backlash
against sexist attacks on Clinton. In fact, his 39-37 loss might even give his supporters the right kind of motivation to work hard. While it also means that Clinton has survived to fight another day – and her establishment support won’t be jumping like rats from a sinking ship – it may just be the “shot-in-the-arm” that Obama will need to dethrone the Clinton dynasty. Always remember that no matter what struggle you’re in, the establishment never gives up without a nasty fight.
While Obama’s labor endorsements in Nevada had been expected for a while, that was when everyone thought he would win New Hampshire. The fact that unions, who are very pragmatic in presidential politics, didn’t give up speaks volumes about their faith that he can win. As the New York Times reported, one reason why the unions stuck with Obama was his record as a community organizer – an affinity that he is “one of us.” Another is that Clinton’s consultant, Mark Penn, has a union busting
record, and UNITE-HERE had requested Hillary to fire him.
In San Francisco, everybody was shocked about New Hampshire – but emboldened to move ahead to help Obama win. The City Hall rally (which was barely publicized) had a light turnout, but I was blown away by the crowd’s diversity. On the sidewalk, passersby stopped when they realized what it was about – and the audience peaked at about 50-odd people. Cars that drove by honked their horns, and there was a hopeful undercurrent. In the past few months, Obama had called upon supporters to take ownership of his campaign. Now that they’re down, they will work hard to pick themselves up again.
District Attorney Kamala Harris, who has long been a strong supporter of Obama, was at the rally – with former State Controller Steve Westly, San Francisco Supervisors Bevan Dufty, Chris Daly, Sophie Maxwell and Board President Aaron Peskin (who switched his support from Edwards.) School Board member Jane Kim, who like Obama was elected with strong youth support, noted that she and her colleagues Eric Mar, Mark Sanchez, Hydra Mendoza and Kim-Shree Maufas have all endorsed Obama. Congresswoman Barbara Lee attended, as did Congressman George Miller who declared his support.
Endorsements from elected officials rarely mean much – unless the official has a base that takes direction from them on how to vote. Barbara Lee is such a politician – as the bumper sticker “Barbara Lee Speaks for Me” is popular in anti-war progressive circles. At the local level, Jane Kim is another example – albeit to a lesser degree. Obama may not have the same number of elected endorsements as Hillary Clinton, but the value of their support is likely to matter a lot more.
While the Nevada unions came out for Obama, Clinton’s campaign announced that Las Vegas Congresswoman Shelley Berkley had endorsed her. A pro-business Democrat who voted for the War, Berkley’s background will undercut Clinton’s attempt to be an agent of change. Before running for Congress, Berkley chaired the Nevada Hotel and Motel Association, worked for both Southwest Gas and was vice president of the Sands Corporation. In 1997, she was caught advising her boss to make campaign contributions to curry favors from judges. The Clinton-Obama split in the Nevada caucus can easily turn into “labor vs. bosses.”
How could Obama lose to Clinton? If he doesn’t pick up support from constituencies who preferred her. There’s no question that working-class women in New Hampshire flocked to Clinton’s side because of the “crying” incident – but strong labor support in Nevada may stop that trend. Clinton also beat Obama among the 62% of New Hampshire voters who are “angry”
at the Bush Administration. To prevail in other states, Obama will have to start stepping up his rhetoric to deliver red meat to anti-Bush voters.
What happens after Nevada? South Carolina votes on January 26th, and Florida goes on January 29th (while Michigan is scheduled for the 15th, only Clinton’s name appears on the ballot and so her victory there will be meaningless.) If Obama wins Nevada, it will ignite the African-American vote in South Carolina and will catapult him to victory. If like Nevada he loses New Hampshire but comes close, South Carolina can still save him.
Then we have February 5th – or Super Duper Tuesday on Steroids. Chris Bowers has an excellent run-down
of each state, and his assessment of which ones lean towards Obama and which are more favorable to Clinton. Assuming that his hunches are correct, California will be far and away the most valuable prize and will make or break a campaign. Local progressive activists have their work cut out for them here. The Democratic presidential nomination may ultimately come down to them.