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Taking the
Temperature of Clinton Supporters

Taking the
Temperature of Clinton Supporters


LGBT Hillary backers from Iowa, South Carolina, and Texas weigh in on the Clinton/Obama divide and whether it can be bridged.

While the Donnie McClurkin flap in South Carolina soured many LGBT folks on Barack Obama's candidacy, Clinton supporter Warren Redman-Gress says he hasn't heard anyone in the state say that they wouldn't vote for him if he became the nominee. "I would probably smack them if I heard it!" he jokes.

"Before last night, there were a number of people sort of resigned to the idea that she wasn't going to make it," says Redman-Gress, the executive director of SC's LGBT organization the Alliance For Full Acceptance, adding that her wins last night were "very energizing."

South Carolina is a flash point for one of Obama's worst moments with gays and lesbians this election after the senator chose to keep antigay singer Donnie McClurkin on a statewide gospel tour despite objections of LGBT leaders across the state.

Though Sen. Obama did reach out to the community in the wake of the incident - granting an interview to The Advocate and posting a message on - Redman-Gress says the debate around the McClurkin incident is still "alive and well" and many feel Sen. Obama has not accounted for it sufficiently.

"As much as his staffers say he has taken responsibility for giving McClurkin a microphone and a stage to spew anti-LGBT rhetoric, I have never found in print a time when he says, 'I did that and it shouldn't have happened,'" he says.

Nonetheless, as Obama's nomination started to seem inevitable, Redman-Gress has seen growing support for him within the community. "There's a sense that we can put up with McClurkin as long as we get a toe in the door," he says. "People are hoping that all of the verbal support that he's given to the LGBT community since then is actually sinking in - that the man becomes his word."

Perhaps LGBT Democratic voters are more likely than most of the party's base to vote Democratic no matter who the nominee, but this willingness to bend stands at odds with Maureen Dowd's observations. "Exit polls have showed that fans of Hillary - who once said they would be happy with Obama if Hillary dropped out - were hardening in their opposition to him, while Obama voters were not so harsh about her," Dowd wrote in her New York Times column today.

The suggestion was reinforced by a letter to the editor in this week's edition of Newsweek from a reader who asserted that even as "a Prius-driving vegetarian peacenik who has never voted Republican," she would be hard pressed to switch her allegiances from Hillary to Barack.

If Obama were the nominee, Berkeley denizen Stacy Taylor wrote, "Come November, I may actually vote Republican. Or I might do something I've never done in 52 years - not vote."

But Susan Webster, an LGBT activist and Clinton supporter in Iowa, has been observing a different trend, especially among those who are newer to politics.

"The new Obama converts are much more about personality and are saying things like, 'If Obama doesn't win, I may not even vote,'" says the 47-year-old Webster.

Although she caucused for Clinton in Iowa, Webster struggled with the choice as late as a day before the voting but, ultimately, circled back to Hillary. "In my age group, with more experienced politicians, there's less tension, and there continues to be questions about who's going to win the general election."

Webster credits Obama's campaign in Iowa for being less "insular" than Clinton's, drawing fresh faces to the process, and training people assiduously. But she adds that the younger folks "are more inclined to be very candidate focused - it's a level of passion that's interesting, but there's a lot of pragmatism that gets lost with that type of emotional support for somebody."

The personality draw also seems to have worked some magic among other folks too. Webster has run across a number of "conservative Bush supporters" who are ready to get behind Obama but "truly loathe" Clinton. "It's an odd choice, in terms of issues, that you would vote for Obama or vote for McCain but not vote for Hillary," Webster explains, given the fact that Clinton's voting record and stances tend to be more moderate than Obama's.

"So it's really a personality and style decision, which is why it's odd that people talk about issues when it seems to me it's so much more of a leadership style question."

Back in Texas, where the freshness of casting a meaningful primary vote still hasn't worn off, Teresa Herrin, president of the Houston Stonewall Democrats, says she sees plenty of good will among supporters of both Democratic candidates.

A Clinton supporter, Herrin was the precinct chair for district 146 in Houston, where she noted that Obama had sent an "overwhelming" force of volunteers to get out the vote in the days leading up to Tuesday's contest. Out of the 208 people who caucused in her precinct, 107 went for Obama and 101 for Clinton.

Herrin says that during registration, Obama supporters were checking in Clinton backers, and vice versa. "They were really nice, giving each other cookies," she says, adding that Obama supporters showed a certain zeal when declaring their allegiance while Clinton supporters exhibited a sense of determination. And toward the end of the evening, "Everyone was really cordial with each other and just excited to be going to the next convention."

Whether or not that good-natured camaraderie continues remains to be seen. The consensus from the first state to caucus this year, says Webster is that "a lot more people on the ground would like to see a mixed ticket. I've heard any number of people express that point of view even though the animosity level is high right now."

Though Hillary Clinton herself hinted at the prospect during a TV interview this morning, it's hard to imagine either Hillary or Barack could subjugate their ego enough for that to happen.

But an even bigger question might be, which candidate's loss would create the greatest number of voter defections in the general election? Perhaps the Democratic Party could start some polling on that, if only to decide whom to target. A Pew poll out last week found that Clinton "runs better than Obama among self-described Democrats in the general election test, although Obama fares better than Clinton among independents." So much for a silver bullet.

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