by Max Brantley
This weekend in the Electric City
This Saturday, one stubborn woman set out for Scranton, PA in support of another stubborn woman. Boyfriend in tow, I walked door-to-door in Dunmore, PA, just north of town, to canvass for Senator Clinton, in a combination of "persuasion" and early get-out-the-vote.
We headed downtown Saturday night for a fundraiser -- not for Hillary, but for the Northeast PA Fire Department. We saw on the 6 o'clock news that they were hosting a chili cook-off, so Tom insisted we immediately head to the Scranton Cultural Center, where $15 bought all you could eat of 25 vats of chili, each prepared by a ladder or engine company from Scranton or Wilkes-Barre, plus keg beer, soft drinks, cake, pizza...and opinions.
There's a lot of anti-Hillary sentiment among the 150 full-time firefighters in the area, mostly because she's thick with Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty. Doherty's gotten a lot of credit for revitalizing the city (my boyfriend and I agreed that Scranton was a really pleasant surprise, downtown especially, with new retail, restaurants, and even some nascent snazzy-looking residential developments), but he hasn't treated the bravest or finest particularly well. They've been negotiating a contract for 7 years and gotten no wage increases -- even cost of living -- in that time. That's a serious decline in real wages, which made it particularly surprising to me that most of the guys I spoke with had chosen to support McCain, once Hillary's association with Doherty had become known. Several I spoke to were ex-military and trusted McCain for that reason -- I didn't hear Obama mentioned once that night, positively or negatively, a surprise since he's been working hard to get union support.
Things were rather different on Sunday.
We learned of Senator Obama's controversial comments when we got back to our hotel Saturday night and turned on CNN. My boyfriend Tom, who rather adores Obama, thought the comment would receive relatively little attention, in the end: "It was taken out of context", he said, "Obama was just telling the truth, anyway; it's not really that offensive." I wasn't so sure. I mean, we elected Monkeyboy -- a Kennebunkport-sailing third generation Bonesman, a Harvard Business School grad who famously told the richest of the rich "you are my base." He may well have been silver-spoon-suckingest son of privilege ever to walk the earth...but voters were pretty sure he wasn't looking down on them. And they really, really liked that. So I thought, weeeelll...that bitter thing might not get him many flies.
Turns out people did notice. Not just the media. We knocked on about 70 doors on Sunday, most in Bunker Hill, a close-knit Italian neighborhood that is home to the DeNaples family (of car parts and Mt Airy casino fame). We probably spoke to 40 people. Of those, two remained undecided. The other 38 were enthusiastic Clinton supporters. I mean enthusiastic. At least four brought up the "bitter" comment. When I'm out canvassing, I have a hard and fast rule to NEVER say anything negative about an opponent. If someone is undecided or supporting Obama, I usually say something along the lines of "it's a historic year; we have two fantastic candidates; Senator Obama is incredibly smart and accomplished". So there was no provocation; no mention on my part of anyone other than Senator Clinton. These people were mad, and they didn't need an invitation or an excuse to voice it. They said, "Who is he to call us hicks?" "We're not bitter, and we don't like being told we are." "He just put his foot in his mouth big time, and I will never vote for him - ever." "He's trying to explain it away, but you can't put the cat back in the bag."
I don't think they are alone. The Republicans have been looking for something they can attack Obama with. Now they have it. For people who think Hillary is "doing their job for them" -- that is such a simplistic, reductive view. Hillary is not trying to "ruin" Obama for November -- she's making a case to superdelegates AND to voters in remaining states about why she continues to believe she is the more qualified general election candidate. Her experience platform failed with too many people (although it still convinced 47% of primary voters so far). So now she is showcasing her ability to fight -- and why that matters against the formidable opponent Dems will face in November. To quote some Republithug on "Meet the Press", Obama is "the new Dukakis". This, in addition, to all the completely crazy allegations about patriotism, religion, racism, that the right will make have to be considered by Democrats when assessing either candidate's electability
-- and certainly before calling for Hillary to just leave the race.
Her Scranton office was swarming with volunteers on a cold, rainy Sunday morning. Obama's office, one block away, was almost empty. You tell me what that means for November.
-- Martha Brantley