DENVER — Dozens of Democrats in town for this week’s convention gathered around flat screen TVs at the bar area of the downtown Hyatt on Saturday afternoon, cheering as Barack Obama introduced his new running mate, Joe Biden, at an Illinois rally.
Biden’s performance was a hit with these convention-goers, who especially liked the presumptive vice-presidential nominee’s quip suggesting that McCain didn’t understand the nation’s economic struggles because he’d “have to figure out which of [his] seven kitchen tables to sit.”
To many Democrats still traumatized by John Kerry’s inability to respond to Republican attacks in 2004, it was taken as a signal that Obama planned to fight back hard, and in Biden, had found just the right partner to help.
After Biden’s speech, an Oregon Democrat who knew I worked at a conservative magazine, confidently taunted, “You guys are in trouble.”
AS DEMOCRATS assemble in the Mile High City this week, they have a bit more of a bounce in their steps than they did the last time they convened four years ago.
Their party now controls Congress, the Republican brand name is badly damaged, and they have a candidate who has built a strong organization that they feel will carry them to victory in November.
The prospect of nominating the first black presidential candidate from a major party has created an added layer of excitement to many attendees who believe they will be a part of history.
Matthew Peter, 23, came from Albany, New York to assist his state delegation, and said that as a younger voter, he’s excited to have a candidate who he feels is listening to the concerns of voters under 30.
“I think that unless the Republicans get out some really good scare tactics and trick people on what Obama really stands for, Obama will win, because I think he’s bringing something different that nobody else has,” Peter said.
BUT NOT EVERYBODY has been swept up in Obamamania. Just a few blocks away from the Sheraton hotel where I spoke to Peter, two women sitting in the sidewalk seating section of the Hard Rock Cafe on Denver’s 16th street outdoor mall caught my eye.
They had “Hillary for President” signs resting on empty chairs, and were eager to talk about their disgust with the nominating process.
“I am objecting to the way Obama was chosen as the nominee,” said Nancy Kiblen of San Diego, California, who supported Hillary Clinton throughout the primaries and volunteered in Pennsylvania, Oregon and Texas.
“He didn’t win, because he didn’t have enough delegates. The superdelegates chose to select him through pressure from the DNC and Democratic Party leaders like Pelosi, Dean, and Donna Brazile.”
Kiblen said Obama blew an opportunity to unify the party by not selecting Clinton as his running mate.
“He added further salt into the wound by not picking her as VP,” she said. “I think that is a slap in the face to Hillary supporters, and all women should realize what he just did. He ran on change and to get rid of old Washington, and he chooses someone who voted exactly like Hillary on the Iraq War, his big issue.
“He’s an old white man from Washington with years and years and years of Washington experience. How is that change? How is that going to win Hillary supporters? It just made me even more mad.”
As I spoke to Kiblen, a man walked by and asked her if she wanted a “John McCain for President” button. She accepted it, and immediately affixed it to her “Hillary” t-shirt. “That’s who I’m going to vote for,” she told me.
MANY DEMOCRATS I spoke to told me that Clinton supporters will ultimately decide that Obama agrees with them on most issues, including abortion, health care, and the Iraq War and get behind the ticket in November.
Kiblen told me that argument didn’t matter to her, because she was voting for McCain merely as a protest vote. “It isn’t about Hillary anymore,” she said. “It’s about sexism and the way they treated her.” She also noted that Obama was “tanking in the polls” and she complained about his big ego.
She was dining with a fellow disgruntled Clinton supporter from North Carolina, who she met while registering at the convention offices of P.U.M.A. (a group of Clinton dead-enders which alternatively stands for People United Means Action or Party Unity My Ass).
P.U.M.A., as well as the group Rise Hillary Rise plan a series of protests on Monday and Tuesday as well as a march, and the turnout at those events will be an indicator of how large of a constituency they actually represent.
WHEN I RAISED this issue with one-time Clinton backer Gale Brewer, a city councilwoman from New York City who represents the Upper West Side of Manhattan, she told me that Obama had a deeper challenge.
“To be honest, I don’t think it’s just a Hillary Clinton problem, I think you have a race problem, and that’s what we’re going to have to overcome in addition,” Brewer said.
“If you talk to people in Idaho and Indiana and parts of Pennsylvania, I don’t think they totally understand that when they get Obama, they get a whole package of people trying to make a better country for all of us — and race shouldn’t matter.”
She pegged Obama’s chances at 50/50.
Bob Vandereto, a delegate from Los Angeles, Califonia, was cautiously optimistic that Obama would pull it out because of a strong organization.
“[Obama] has the best political organization I’ve ever seen in 40 years of Democratic politics, and I have confidence that in the end they’re going to squeak through,” Vandereto said.
If the Democrats can’t win in this favorable electoral environment, it’s hard to see under what circumstances they ever could.