In her concession speech less than three weeks ago, Hillary Clinton urged supporters to transfer their loyalties to her rival: “Today I am standing with Barack Obama to say ‘Yes we can’,” she said. “We will make history together as we write the next chapter in America’s story.”
On Thursday evening, at Mrs Clinton’s first joint meeting with Mr Obama since the campaign began, the former First Lady will renew her call for the party to unify behind Mr Obama – a theme that will be echoed on Friday when they appear for a rally in the town of Unity in New Hampshire.
But a highly vocal minority of Mrs Clinton’s supporters have chosen to ignore her plea altogether. Under the umbrella group, Just Say No Deal, diehard Clintonites have set up more than 100 anti-Obama websites in the last 20 days, most of them boiling with indignation.
Some, such as I Own My Vote and No Quarter, are self-explanatory. Others, such as Done – Democrats Over Nominating Elitists – and Puma – Party Unity My Ass – choose memorable acronyms. With nicknames such as Barky, Nobama and Oblahblah, none are complimentary towards their party’s nominee.
Many of the sites are run by women who believe that Mrs Clinton was the victim of a sexist alliance between the mainstream media and Mr Obama’s campaign. Yet much of the language they deploy could easily be mistaken for what comes out of right-wing talk radio.
“Voting for Obama is like going to bed with your rapist,” said one supporter in an e-mail that was circulated to a Clinton support group. “Hillary has raised money for these people, campaigned for them and they betrayed her. Now you all want her to be a “nice girl” and hand her political base over to Obama. You must be daft.”
Amy Goldman, who set up the Puma site on Facebook, says she has received a flood of e-mails from like-minded Democrats. Many, like her, plan to vote for John McCain. Some were motivated by Mr Obama’s widely quoted advice to Hillary supporters to “Get over it” at a meeting with a congressional group on Monday. In context, the remark comes over much less starkly.
Others picked up on a recent incident when Mr Obama called a female reporter “sweetie” for which he later apologised. Many of the sites sell a badge labelled “I am not your sweetie”. Still others were enflamed by the allegedly biased commentary on MSNBC, the cable-news channel, throughout the primaries.
One commentator accused Mrs Clinton of “pimping out” her daughter, Chelsea, on the campaign trail. “The level of misogyny is unspeakable,” says Ms Goldman. “But the main source of my anger comes from the fact that this was a selection, not an election. Obama was imposed upon the Democratic party by its elite. Even if Hillary is invited to join Obama on the ticket I will still vote for McCain.”
Political analysts say that drawn-out nominating battles often leave a residue of bitterness that can take weeks or longer to die down. Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee and former presidential candidate, told the Financial Times that it took two months for his supporters to get over their “grieving” in 2004 and transfer their loyalties to John Kerry.
Opinion polls suggest that many of Mrs Clinton’s supporters – up to a quarter of whom say they will not vote for Mr Obama – are still in the grieving stage. Others are backing Mr Obama because Mrs Clinton has told them to do so.
“I am taking my cue entirely from Hillary,” says Stella O’Leary, an indefatigable fundraiser for Mrs Clinton, who is now raising money for Mr Obama. “I am really shocked by the Hillary supporters who are going ahead regardless and supporting McCain.”
Many more, says Norman Ornstein, a political analyst in Washington DC, will reluctantly transfer their loyalties after they see Mrs Clinton campaigning with Mr Obama in New Hampshire tomorrow. Mr Obama’s offer to help Mrs Clinton raise funds to pay off some of her campaign debts – which exceed $20m – could provide an added sweetener.
“I would be surprised if the disaffected Hillary supporters are around in large numbers a couple of months from now,” he said. “Many of them are feminists and if they consider the types of judges John McCain has promised to nominate to the Supreme Court most of them will change their minds.”
Ms Goldman vehemently disagrees. “McCain will be working with a Democratic Congress which will never agree to overturn Roe vs Wade [the 1973 ruling that permitted abortion],” she said. There was “nothing anyone can say”, she added, that would persuade her to vote for Mr Obama.
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