Mending Fences

Mending Fences

With the primary season over, presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama has his eyes on defeating the Republican candidate Sen. John McCain. But some political watchers say McCain may stand to benefit if Obama and his former rival Sen. Hillary Clinton don’t take steps to mend fences with each other and with their prospective supporters–a move that may be easier said than done.

“It doesn’t matter what the Republicans do if Obama can’t get all of the Democrats behind him,” says Marvin King, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Mississippi. “You’ve got to take care of home first.”

That notion was underscored this week when a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll found that if Obama does not choose Clinton to be his running mate, 22% of Clinton supporters said they would not vote in November and another 17% said they would vote for McCain. Likewise, a Website called Ex-Hillary Clinton Supporters for John McCain (, bills itself as an anti-Obama site and is calling for Democrats to raise money and support McCain.

On the other side of the equation are the Obama supporters, many of whom are just as vehemently opposed to the thought of Obama selecting Clinton to be his vice presidential candidate. Many African American voters were particularly turned off by what some perceived to be personal attacks on Obama by Clinton. “I don’t think black Americans are going to take it easy on Barack Obama if he chooses Hillary,” says L.N. Rock, a political blogger in Silver Spring, Maryland, who created the African American Political Pundit Website (www.aapoliticalpundit.blogspot.comd). In fact, Rock says, some African American voters may even think twice about voting for Obama should he select Clinton. “Black voters would probably take a second look at Barack Obama and say, ‘Are you really the person of change? Can you take the heat at this moment in time?’ Because there will be heat on him if he were to select Hillary.”

A better move for Obama might be to appeal directly to Clinton’s supporters, King says. “Barack Obama will have to spend the better part of the summer detailing some policy prescriptions aimed at Hillary supporters,” King adds. “He’s going to have to think long and hard about where the country is now, where the economy is and figure out what we need to do to reach these people and make the next four years of their lives better than the last four years of their lives.”

If he can pinpoint the issues that matter the most to blue-collar, white Americans and white women–Clinton’s core following–they may lose their resentment toward Obama, even if he isn’t their first choice for president. “The goal is to get them to stop being anti-Barack and to become pro-Democratic Party again,” King says.

Another step Obama might take is to reach out to some of Clinton’s former campaign workers, fundraisers, and volunteers, and make room for them on his campaign, King adds. “That would be a great way