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It's No Longer Just About Hillary

A Commentary By Froma Harrop

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

After hearing her name placed in nomination at the Democrats' convention next week, Hillary Clinton will no doubt urge her followers to support Barack Obama. What good that gesture will do for the Obama candidacy remains to be seen. Clinton has already made it several times, but a new Pew Research Center poll shows that 28 percent of her primary voters do not intend to vote for Obama, a number virtually unchanged from June.

Of special concern are women, particularly older ones, whom in the past could be counted on to vote for whatever Democrat was running for president. Many remain scandalized by the sexist attacks on Clinton during the recent campaign. A stubborn 18 percent of Clinton's female voters vow to back McCain, according to a poll for Lifetime television networks. Another 6 percent plan to support neither major-party candidate.

Perhaps Clinton does not possess the magic wand to move her troops. The storyline goes that many women disappointed by Clinton's loss or angry at the nasty campaign just needed time "to heal." Once Hillary gave them the nudge, they'd get with the program.

Thing is, it's no longer about Hillary for many of them. I sat in on a group of high-powered Clinton supporters gathering in New York last week to create a nonpartisan group called The New Agenda. There was little discussion of the current campaign.

The New Agenda's agenda is to look out for women's political interests where the Democratic Party and old-line feminist organizations had failed. The attendees reserved special fury for the Democratic National Committee and its passivity before the misogynistic carnival. One of their specifics is getting MSNBC jester Chris Matthews fired -- and if he intends to run for the Senate from Pennsylvania, to end that idea.

Every member has her own plans for November, including for a few, voting for Obama. Co-founder Amy Siskind, a former Wall Street exec and Clinton fundraiser, told me, "I won't vote for Obama, but I'm not sure what I'll do." Cynthia Ruccia, a Democratic activist from Columbus, Ohio, who twice ran against Republican John Kasich, is supporting McCain -- and organizing other Democrats in her swing state to do likewise.

The McCain camp has noticed. Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and McCain's adviser, met with Siskind in New York. She flew to Columbus to confer with Ruccia, Nancy Hopkins, another New Agenda founder, and 75 other miffed Democratic women. (Hopkins is the MIT biologist who famously protested a suggestion by then-Harvard University President Lawrence Summers that boys might be innately better at science than girls.)

DNC chairman Howard Dean has called Ruccia twice. "He was just waking up to the thought that women around the country were upset over the treatment of Hillary," she told me. Ruccia tends to doubt that putting Clinton's name to a roll-call vote will mollify many of the female holdouts. "The train left the station a long time ago," she said.

The New Agenda wants to become a women's-voice alternative for the National Organization for Women and NARAL, which they see as moribund and appendages of the Democratic leadership. Members note that when rapper Ludacris sang a pro-Obama ballad calling Hillary "an irrelevant b-," the president of NOW didn't get out of bed to complain.

For many of these women, whatever nice things Clinton says about Obama in Denver won't matter much. They have decided that they can live with McCain, and they're already inoculated against the crude anatomical references that left-wing bloggers will send their way. (There's not one they haven't heard.) Hillary can't do much to change their feelings -- even if she wanted to.

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