After Pennsylvania’s primary is over Tuesday night, the campaign circus will leave the state, but local Democrats will remain to face the task of working with their former adversaries to elect down-ballot candidates this fall.
The animosity between some of the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fans could leave discord in Pennsylvania that may not soon be tempered. “Of course, and that’s why I’m neutral” in the Clinton-Obama fray, said state Sen. Andrew Dinniman, a veteran Democratic leader in Chester County, 30 miles west of Philadelphia.
Referring to the local Clinton and Obama loyalists, he said, “Someone had to remind them constantly that the prize is November, not April. So my job has been to make sure that both sides come and talk to me to try to resolve any conflicts that evolve and to bring all these people together on the 23rd of April.”
“I do it because it’s in my interest… I’ve worked all these years to create this party which is now beginning to cross the finish line here and someone has to keep it together,” he said.
Democrats' great expectations
As a former county commissioner and as Chester County party chairman in the late 1970s, Dinniman has seen this area shift from a Republican stronghold to a highly competitive county that could go Democratic in the presidential election for the first time since Lyndon Johnson crushed Republican Barry Goldwater in the 1964 landslide.
A lot is on the line in Pennsylvania. It could be a presidential battleground state, although no Republican has won here since George H.W. Bush in 1988.
But no matter what happens to the presidential contest, state legislative elections here on Nov. 4 will have a national impact.
Here’s why: Democrats have only a one-seat edge in the lower house of the state legislature, with all 203 House seats up for election in November, as well half of the 50 seats in the state Senate, where the GOP currently has an eight-seat margin.
The winners of November’s contests will determine the outcome of the decennial redistricting which begins in just three years.
If there are Democratic majorities in the Pennsylvania legislature, they could cement Democratic control of the state for years to come.
Dramatizing how vital it is for local Democrats to work in harmony, state Rep. Barbara McIlvaine Smith won her Chester County seat in 2006 by only 28 votes out of more than 23,000 votes cast.
28 votes give Democrats state House control
It was her victory that gave Democrats their one-seat margin in the state House.
A vigilant Democratic poll worker spotted a pile of absentee ballots that had not been run through the tabulating machine; that gave Smith and the Democrats victory.
This November, too, alert Democratic (and Republican) eyes and ears could determine who controls the state legislature.
While not commenting on specific intra-party frictions in her county, Smith, a Clinton supporter, said, “Campaigns get ugly; things get said. People don’t like negatives, but that’s the only thing that seems to work… And I’m very distressed about it.”
Chester County Democratic Party chairperson Michele Vaughn, who is neutral in the Clinton-Obama battle, said, “I am confident that after the primary, our county committee, the activists, can come together and support the nominee. What I am concerned about is that these new volunteers – the folks who may have just gotten involved for first time, who feel very strongly for one candidate, that they’re not going to come together.”
“I’m afraid they’re going to stay at home” on Nov. 4, she said. “They came out for a specific reason for this primary and they may not come out in the fall election.”
Anne Sogluizzo, an Obama canvasser in Chester County, said she’d encountered remarkably little hostility from her fellow Democrats as she went door to door in search of votes for Obama.
She knocked on the door of one man in West Chester, Pa. who treated her brusquely and told her, “I just want you to know I think his (Obama’s) racial remarks were uncalled for. He insults my intelligence. We’re for Hillary.”
She said, “I’ll never forget it. I don’t know what this man was talking about. That was my only friction or hostility.”
Her own views of Hillary Clinton are decidedly emphatic. “She’s very strong and forceful – but do I like her? No. I don’t like her as person. I don’t want her to be my leader. I don’t want her to represent me out there.”
Obama fan considers Clinton scenario
An Obama supporter in neighboring Berks County, Cynthia Baughman, who serves on the county’s Democratic committee, said, “We just keep repeating whoever is the nominee, we’re all going to pull together and work for the nominee of the Democratic Party after this is over.”
And if Clinton is the nominee, “I would work for her and vote for her, but I don’t know that I would give up every waking hour the way I have for Barack Obama. I have been inspired by his campaign to work incredibly hard, neglect my husband and neglect my pets and my work and the house. I do feel like this campaign is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
She added, “I really would be disappointed if she is the nominee… If he doesn’t get it, there are people who may never feel this way about a candidate again in their lives. But I hope these people stay involved in the Democratic process.”
Berks County Democratic blogger John Morgan, like Baughman a member of the county committee, said he had been stung by hostile criticism from Obama supporters in the county.
“They seemed to be upset that I was taking an objective viewpoint in the primary race” in his blog, The Pennsylvania Progressive.
A blogger battle his critics
“They started leaving comments on my blog saying that I was being paid directly by the Hillary campaign, which wasn’t true,” Morgan said Sunday as he waited to hear Obama speak at the high school in Reading, Pa.
Morgan said he had done consulting work on federal election rules for state Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, a Clinton backer in Berks County who was setting up a local in-kind operation to support Clinton’s efforts.
Caltagirone “paid me personally from his own funds; I never got paid by the Hillary campaign,” he said.
Morgan has written some acerbic things about the Obama forces his blog, at one point asking, “Why does Barack Obama incite such intense hatred among his supporters?”
But he said Sunday, “When it comes to a presidential election you can’t let your local problems get in the way of the major election. After all this, will people be willing to do that? I don’t know. I think there are some people who aren’t going to talk to each other again for a long time.”
Morgan said he probably won’t be voting for Obama if the Illinois senator wins the nomination. “That would take long hard thinking on my part,” he said.
But he will vote for down-ballot Democratic candidates in November.