DES MOINES — Anecdotal evidence suggests that Hillary Clinton’s take no prisoners mentality and sense of entitlement may have trickled down to her supporters and cost her crucial delegates in the complex world of caucusing. It may have even meant the difference between a second and third place finish, given the closeness of the race for silver with John Edwards.
Unlike regular voting in booths, at a Democratic caucus, voters gather in preference groups for the various candidates and then debate one another in an attempt to change minds. At the caucus I observed at the First Presbyterian Church of Des Moines, an older woman who served as a precinct captain for Clinton got aggressive with Obama supporters. “I’m not saying he doesn’t have experience, but he doesn’t have enough of it,” she shouted at them. Then she reflected a certain Clintonian smugness by telling them that Obama would make a great vice-president. She downright got in the face of a two young female Obama supporters, pointing at them, and commanding, “You know why you have to vote for Hillary? Because she’s a woman!” She then lectured about how she had marched for women’s rights in 1972.
Under the arcane rules of a Democratic caucus, a candidate must attain 15 percent of the vote in a room to be considered viable, or else his or her supporters will have the option of defecting to another candidate, which could determine the outcome. At the caucus site I observed, for instance, Clinton started out with a 56 to 39 advantage over Obama, but once the Joe Biden and Bill Richardson supporters recommitted, her final margin of victory was narrowed to 58 to 56.
Delegates are then awarded to candidates based on a complicated mathematical formula related to the number of votes received, so even if a candidate doesn’t win at a caucus site, picking up supporters of other candidates can bolster his or her delegate count. This is where the arrogance of Clinton supporters may have cost the campaign dearly.
Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for Richardson’s governor’s office, told me that at the caucus he observed, his boss wasn’t viable. Clinton was well ahead at that particular site, so the savvy strategy would have been for her supporters to surrender some votes to Richardson, so he could become viable, and thus deprive the other campaigns of his voters. Instead, the Clinton supporters were stubborn. “They wouldn’t budge,” Gallegos told me. As a result, Richardson voters went to Edwards and Obama, and that improved their vote totals enough so that by the time the delegates were tallied, Clinton ended up in a three way tie.
By contrast, at Obama’s victory party, I met up with Cliff Muhammad, an Obama supporter who had come from Chicago. Muhammad said at the caucus site he observed, the Obama supporters faced the same choice regarding Richardson, but they surrendered a voter to make Richardson viable, and thus ended up with more delegates.
The difference in approaches is a small indication of the difference between the stubborn, polarizing, tendency of the Clintons, and the willingness of Obama and his supporters to work with others for pragmatic reasons.
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