No more than a few hundred Hillary marchers were winding their way toward the Pepsi Center Tuesday morning, a few hours before their champion would sweep to the podium. Having read and heard a great deal of speculation about their intentions, I was interested to meet some of them in person.
The first one I approached, a gray-haired woman wearing a “TeamHillary” shirt, was waiting with a few friends as a TV crew prepared to interview her. Her apparent willingness to answer questions encouraged me to lead on the blunt side. “Do you know John McCain’s position on abortion, contraception, and the Court?”
“I sure do, and I’m for it, and for him,” she snapped back.
Just behind her was a sixtyish couple who, it turned out, did not support Hillary at all; they were only tagging along. Whom would they vote for? “Bob Barr, or the Constitution Party guy. Not McCain or Obama.” Why? “They’re both wrong on the issues. The big issue is that the border has to be sealed. All these illegals are killing us.”
I took my leave. Next up was Corina Aragon, a state delegate from Colorado, who was sitting on a bench sitting and holding a Hillary sign in front of her. She seemed wounded but somehow placid. She explained to me that Obama had, earlier in the campaign, said that if Hillary won the nomination, his supporters should not support her. She seemed sincere in her belief that this had happened, but even so, now she was reconciled and on-message. Hillary had told the Hispanic Caucus Monday morning that they should work as hard for Obama as they had worked for her. That was enough. When I told her about the TeamHillary faker I’d just run into, she confided that she herself had just seen three TV crews vying to interview another such Republican. This appalled her.
What did she make, I asked, of Hillary supporters who claimed not to know that John McCain is relentlessly anti-abortion? “They have to know,” she said, sighing. When she moved her sign, I saw that she was wearing a huge Obama button.
Aragon’s friend, Susan Stewart, had been for Obama from the beginning. What did she think was going on with the Hillaryites? “I doubt they know what they’re doing,” she said, adding that she’s a mental-health professional.
A minute later, Adela Solis from San Antonio told me she might vote for McCain. He would be contained by a Democratic Congress. What about abortion rights, I asked? “He’s lukewarm about that.” I begged to differ. McCain did go wobbly once, in 1999, the last time he reinvented himself, but otherwise he has been consistently opposed to abortion. “Abortion is important, sure,” Solis said, “but it’s not the only thing. McCain’s spent his career being an independent—not on all issues, but that’s what he’s known for.” Which was hard to dispute.
Another woman, younger, said she hadn’t decided how to vote. What was she waiting for? “I want Obama to say that he appreciates what Hillary has done.” She did not think this an unreasonable demand. The pure voice of identity politics spoke to her sweetly.
In the afternoon, I ran into another TeamHillary group on a downtown street. One of them had wrapped a sweatshirt around her waist that was emblazoned with PUMA, which is understood, with a wink, to mean both “People United Means Action” and “Party Unity My Ass.” (The rumor was that longtime Hillary supporter James Carville had taken to wearing Puma brand sneakers in solidarity with this fake movement.) I asked her if she cared about McCain’s views on abortion. “I’m for McCain,” she shot back. “I don’t know his position and I don’t care!”
I cast journalistic distance aside. How, I asked with no doubt unseemly intensity, could she be indifferent? Didn’t the issue matter? “Who cares what you think?” she said. “You men are always telling us what to think about abortion!”
All of this preceded Hillary’s speech Tuesday, in which she explained to her followers why they should unite behind Barack Obama in unambiguous terms: “Those are the reasons I support Barack Obama,” she said. “And those are the reasons you should, too.” The audience roared, as they did when she declared, “No way, no how, no McCain,” and again when she likened the Twin Cities Republican convention site to the twin worldviews of George Bush and John McCain. I was standing next to the Ohio delegation, which included several conspicuous TeamHillaryites. They were ecstatic.
And yet, afterward, by those weirdly binding filiations that string journalists into packs—and despite even the grave approval of the pundits—the story of Hillary diehards bolting the party remained the obsessive focus of the cable news networks. Directly after the speech, for instance, CNN decided to feature a Hillary delegate who, through deep sobs, said that Hillary had given a speech so “presidential” that it was all the more grievous that she wasn’t the nominee. A longtime Democratic loyalist, she never thought she’d find herself needing to be wooed more. But she did. It all depended on Obama, but she couldn’t quite say how. In the meantime, for those seeking solace in a lost cause, CNN would have to do.