This post was updated on August 27, 2008 at 6:49 p.m.
Minnesota’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Denver will support Barack Obama for president and say the right words of unity even if it kills them. For several of the ones I’ve chatted with over the last few weeks, it will.
On Tuesday, the Democrats sent a former national chair of the Clinton campaign to the Minnesota delegation’s breakfast meeting to urge the Clinton delegates to get behind Obama.
“When someone puts a mic in our face and asks, ‘What about the Hillary supporter, or the person who supported Bill Richardson or Dennis Kucinich?’ We will say ‘We are Democrats,’ in a way that it will be so shocking to whoever asked the question, that they will just stand back,” said Rep. Sharon Jackson Lee of Houston, Texas. “They will say ‘Let them just walk on by. There is some kind of glory walking by. There’s a light over there.’ We are Democrats. We are one. We are one nation. We are empowered! We are strengthened! We are Democrats!”
Rep. Jackson Lee hasn’t met Connie Kafka of Wyoming. She is the Democrats’ worst nightmare. She’s not a Hillary Clinton supporter who’ll hold her nose and vote for Obama. She says she’s a Hillary Clinton supporter who’s going to work and vote for John McCain.
And she has no problem telling you why.
She doesn’t believe Obama loves America.
I talked with her while sitting on the steps of a row house in Denver, next to Red’s Anytime Bail Bonds. Puma PAC, an organization of Clinton supporters who will work for John McCain, has rented the space during the convention. Signs for Hillary Clinton share space out front with ones that say Take back our party! Elected not selected.
Kafka says Mrs. Clinton is the “rightful nominee” of the convention. “She won the nationwide popular vote and one of the reasons the caucuses came out different is there was fraud and voter intimidation.”
Kafka says the Clinton delegates to the convention, including those from Minnesota, have little choice but to back Obama because they’re being told they have no future in the Party if they don’t. And these are party insiders to whom a powerful role in the party power structure matters.
“They are still intimidating and strong-arming people,” she insists. “What we’re hearing is delegates are being taken into rooms and being browbeaten, being told ‘there will be no future in the party for you if you don’t fall in line.'”
She knows Sen. Clinton is in the same boat and has little choice but to support Obama. “I don’t believe in my heart that she believes in her heart that Sen. Obama can lead this country,” says Kafka, who says she has voted Democratic for 38 years and now vows to vote a straight Republican ticket.
“Anyone who claims to want to lead this country should at least begin by loving and respecting this country,” she said.
“You don’t believe that he does?” I asked.
“I do not believe that he does,” she said. “His greatest gaffe was when he said, ‘this is America, the greatest country in the world, now join me in changing it.'”
She acknowledges that Sen. McCain is unlikely to come close to pushing the issues that made Kafka support Clinton in the first place. “I believe that Senator McCain at least begins by having a general respect and love for this country, its people, traditions, and a love of the armed forces.”
“Everything he’s done has been a coldly calculated move up the ladder of politics,” she said of Barack Obama.
Update 6:03 p.m. 8/27 I mentioned to someone while doing this interview that in my head I was thinking this would be the perfect Karl Rovian dirty trick. Send in a bunch of people with Clinton signs, claiming to be supporters. I have no evidence that’s the case, but there’s enough questions about the pedigree to warrant this disclaimer. First, the person who started the Puma PAC gave $500 to the McCain campaign in 2000 and also gave money to a Women Count PAC in 2008 and nothing in between, including to Hillary Clinton.
The person listed as a major donor to Puma PAC (which doesn’t claim a great deal of money on hand) has donated thousands to Hillary Clinton over the years, and also donated to Barack Obama in 2007. She also donated a small amount to the McCain campaign.
Beyond that, it’s difficult to get a read on the PAC, specifically if the people who joined the PAC knew its pedigree or whether they believed in its stated purpose, even if it turns out to be a Republican dirty trick. Ms. Kafka’s comments are so clearly aligned with oft-stated Republican views, that one is hard pressed to believe that a co-conspirator in an organization that’s a front for McCain supporters, would invite disbelief. They are so strong that they would be somewhat more likely, I should think, to drive an on-the-fence Clinton supporter to snap out of it and race into the arms of Barack Obama. But I certainly can’t say that for sure.
This afternoon, the Star Tribune carried a commentary from a Democrat — Lisa Sisinni — outlining similar concerns as those voiced by Ms. Kafka. The Daily Kos noted she has never contributed to the Clinton campaign.
Nonetheless, a significant number of Clinton supporters (28%) said in March they would vote for John McCain, according to a Gallup Survey in the heat of the battle. In July, CNN also found a large percentage of Clinton women planning to stay home.
Salon, acknowledging a different meaning of the PUMA acronym, looked at the depth of dissatisfaction by Clinton’s supporters and also found it deep and significant.
The headline I used for this post did not mean to imply that Connie Kafka personally is the Democrats biggest nightmare. In fact, she was used as a metaphor for Clinton women who plan to — at the very least — stay home. I still contend that is, indeed, a significant concern of Democrats.