June 3, 2008

Tompkins County and Hillary Clinton

The big political news of the moment here is Tompkins County Democratic Committee Chair Irene Stein's decision to endorse Hillary Clinton. Stein is a super-delegate to the Democratic National Convention, because the New York State Democratic Committee elected her to the Democratic National Committee four years ago.

In the wake of Stein's announcement, I've heard a fair number of questions. Her decision contrasts pretty sharply with Obama's 59-37 victory in the primary here, the only county in New York State that voted for Obama. One of the more interesting questions was from a Dryden Hillary supporter:

May I ask you why there seems to be so much negative feeling toward Irene's endorsement of Hillary Clinton?

Thinking it through, I think there's a story here worth telling, though it's more a story about Tompkins County and Clinton and less about Irene Stein herself. It's more than a simple left-right thing, I think, as I know (and certainly like!) Hillary supporters I'd say are well to my left and well to my right. (I was an Edwards guy, decided in the booth to vote for Obama after Edwards dropped out, and have become more and more of an Obama supporter over time.)

The story goes back a long ways.

Bill Clinton's presidency didn't sit that well with a lot of people in Tompkins County. That probably was mostly a left-right thing, as the Clintons never seemed especially left by Tompkins County standards, and the whole 'triangulation' thing raised all kinds of doubts for all kinds of people. I was never a convinced Clinton fan, though I was, I think, vastly happier with them than a lot of people here. I certainly never understood why people would vote for Nader, for example.

While there are lots of folks who move in and out of Tompkins County, a lot of people, even some newcomers, didn't seem thrilled with the 'carpetbagger' aspect of Hillary Clinton's becoming our Senator. Personally, I think New York was an opportunity for her because New York State Democrats have done a pretty lousy job of developing a farm team here and didn't have great people ready to replace Moynihan. Her not being from here, even if it didn't convince people to vote against her for Senate, did leave a lot of people wondering about her ambitions.

(The 'carpetbagger' issue definitely resonates more strongly in Corning, where I grew up, though, than I've heard it here.)

Clinton's vote for the war created pretty complete consternation among Democrats in Tompkins County even as she first cast it. Many people I knew who really liked her tried hard to excuse it rather than justify it, and that tendency accelerated as the war looked worse and worse. A lot of people said openly that her hawkishness was positioning herself for a national run, though, which probably made those already suspicious of her even less fond of her.

By 2006, it was very clear that Clinton had problems in Tompkins County. She won the Democratic primary for Senate in Tompkins County by a mere 2849-2021. That sounds good on the surface, but her opponent had no funding, no name recognition, almost no organization, and relatively little support elsewhere in the state. (I met him once and can't say he was especially charismatic - but maybe it was just a bad day.)

Even within the County Democratic Committee, there were some very sharp divisions. At one point we had a vote over whether or not to send a letter to Clinton via Stein's husband Peter, who's one of our State Committee representatives. Committee members actually wound up standing on opposite sides of the room so we could get an accurate count, since it was so close to 50-50.

Clinton definitely has some very strong supporters across the county and across the Democratic political spectrum here. I hear from them regularly as a lot of them are on various Democratic Committees, read this site, or otherwise voice their opinions - we're friends, after all! Most Upstate Democrats do seem to be Clinton supporters, as the primaries in 2006 and 2008 demonstrate - just not here in Tompkins County.

The primary results this February weren't kind to Clinton. She only won Groton (decisively) and Enfield (barely) and even lost in more districts within Dryden than I'd have guessed. The City of Ithaca was more than 2-1 Obama, and the Town of Ithaca was 17-11.

Stein's endorsement was, I believe, what she really wanted to do. She's not bound by DNC rules to support the candidate her home constituency supported. The disconnect between her being County Democratic Committee Chair and her being a superdelegate makes for some strange conversations. Her DNC role is very different from her role as County Chair - separate, but kind of connected. I don't think most County Committee members will be terribly surprised that she did this, but I expect it'll be a part of various conversations going forward, not all of them happy.

(I can't really complain about people making bold and unpopular political statements this week, I guess, though the timing does seem really strange to me on all kinds of levels.)

Posted by simon at June 3, 2008 12:22 PM in
Note on photos


HP said:

I guess my BIG concern with Obama is his commitment to working class. Does he really have a strong commitment to universal healthcare, dealing with the job crisis, and taking care of all those americans who live in poverty.

If he had Edwards, or someone who champions these causes as a running mate, I would feel better.

I would also love to read more on his stance on these issues. Some guidance toward them would be appreciated.

I could cite platform positions from his site, but that's probably not exciting enough.

You might try contacting the local Obama organization - they probably have detailed information much closer to their fingertips than I do.

(I tended to think of Edwards as the one pushing most strongly on those issues, with Clinton and Obama responding to him, but I never got any great sense there was a huge gap between Clinton and Obama on these aspects of policy.)