Hillary's losing hand

Anne Summers

There's a story doing the rounds of New York City, where I am currently visiting, concerning a tied vote in one of the districts in the Democratic Caucus in Nevada a few weeks back.

It being Las Vegas, a deck was produced, shuffled and the two precinct captains each invited to take a card. Barack Obama's captain drew a ten of clubs and sat back smiling; then Hillary Clinton's captain took his: the Queen of Hearts. The former First Lady who became a Senator and is now vying to become the first female President of the United States won the district - and the state. Luck was a lady that night, but Hillary Clinton has been on a losing streak ever since.

She has lost the last eight contests in the primary election battles, several by huge margins, and now has at least 100 fewer delegates committed to voting for her at the Democratic Convention in Denver, Colorado in August than her rival, Barack Obama.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. Her strategy for winning the nomination was predicated on her attaining an unbeatable margin after the February 5 Super Tuesday contests where 22 states were up for grabs. Instead, while she won the big ones - New York, New Jersey, California, Massachusetts, Tennessee - Obama took the majority of states, giving him a seemingly unstoppable momentum that has made him the clear front-runner. Clinton always expected she would be the star candidate; instead she is fighting for her political life against a charismatic young African-American man who has taken the Democratic Party by storm.


"Not only is it not cool for be for Hillary, it is portrayed as being downright old-fashioned, corrupt even. And this is in New York, Hillary's home state, and the city that is supposedly her power base."

The support he now has is quite extraordinary. When the contest began, Clinton could claim considerable, even majority, support among African-American voters. That is no longer the case. Perhaps more surprising, however, is the way in which other groups - high income earners, men, and young people - have flocked to him. Clinton's core supporters are older women and low-income working people. It's Starbucks (where Obama supporters hustle for votes) versus Walmart (where poor people shop and on whose board Hillary Clinton once served).

I arrived here at the height of the primary season, just three days after New York's. At every dinner party or other gathering I have attended in the past week, all of them with white, educated professionals, the majority around the table was invariably for Obama. Hillary supporters were shouted down, the distaste many Obamaites feel for her being transferred onto anyone who voted for her. Not only is it not cool for be for Hillary, it is portrayed as being downright old-fashioned, corrupt even. And this is in New York, Hillary's home state, and the city that is supposedly her power base.

Not so long ago, Democrats grumbled how they were 'spoilt for choice', feigning consternation that whoever they chose - the woman or the black - would make history. Now the contest has become bitter: families are split, usually along gender and generational lines; friends barely talk to each other and the resentment and even anger is extraordinary. Nowhere is this more apparent than with women who support Hillary and who can see the victory they barely dared hope for now slipping away. Some will even say that Obama is 'presumptuous' to have run now, when he is so young and inexperienced and seemingly incapable of winning the Presidential prize, thereby denying the older and patently more experienced Hillary the one shot she has at it.

'There's an older generation of women who feel it's their time,' says Wende Jager-Hyman, executive director of the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership, an organisation founded by the writer Naomi Wolf. 'And they don't want it taken away from them'. She thinks such women will not vote in November if Hillary is not the candidate. This anger first erupted publicly on February 2 after Senator Teddy Kennedy endorsed Obama - or O'Bama, as some wags started calling him. Whether such an endorsement is worth anything is debatable but it was a shock to Clinton who had expected to be supported by the Democratic Party's patriarch. It also enraged many feminists who recalled the through-gritted-teeth political cover the women's movement has provided over the years to the prodigal Kennedy in return for his legislative support on key women's issues. The gloves soon came off.

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