Clinton's Supporters Try to Get Past Her Defeat

Now that Hillary Clinton has left the presidential race, both Barack Obama and John McCain are courting her more than 17 million supporters. Clinton has told her backers to get behind Obama. But that seems far from a sure thing, if a recent talk with them revealed.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Now that Hillary Clinton has bowed out of the presidential race, Barack Obama and John McCain are courting her supporters, more than 17 million of them.

In a speech last weekend, Clinton enthusiastically told her backers to get behind Obama, but for now that's far from a sure thing. In a moment we'll hear from one of Clinton's most outspoken surrogates, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland.

After helping Clinton beat Obama in his home state, Strickland is now trying to convince voters that Obama is far preferable to McCain.

First, though, we're going to hear from NPR's David Greene. He covered Senator Clinton's campaign for us. Over the long primary season, David spoke with scores of her supporters, and yesterday he caught up with a few of them.

DAVID GREENE: People who voted for Hillary Clinton still sound like they're hurting, especially women who thought the time had arrived for a female president. Most, not all, of the people I reconnected with said they'll probably vote for Barack Obama, but they're all still worried he's too inexperienced.

Let me introduce you first to Rebecca Hemburger(ph). She's 23 years old, works for a dance company in Pittsburgh. I met her at a diner back in April. Here's what she told me at the time.

Ms. REBECCA HEMBURGER: I want to see a woman in office. I want to see her - I want - I want that to happen. Because if it doesn't happen now, when will it happen? I don't see it happening, if she doesn't - if not Hillary, then who?

GREENE: That was April. Yesterday, I got Rebecca on the phone. She said she's still dealing with Clinton dropping out.

Ms. HEMBURGER: It's hard to let go of something that I was really embracing for so long.

GREENE: But Rebecca is letting go, and Obama is getting her vote. Rebecca said Obama is both charming and inspiring. His ideas seem a bit vague and his experience a little thin.

Ms. HEMBURGER: So I, you know, I go in there with a little trepidation, but I think that, you know, hopefully his good nature will get us through.

GREENE: I also asked Rebecca if Hillary Clinton's loss was a setback for women. She said no, that real progress can take time.

Ms. HEMBURGER: It's baby steps, and how do we continue to move and to shake and to grow. It's the little things. And when a 7-year-old sees that Hillary Clinton could be the president, that 7-year-old is going to say, I'm going to be president one day.

GREENE: Another woman who was committed to Hillary Clinton being president is Jan Pence(ph). Jan lives in Youngstown, Ohio. She had coffee with me back in February. At the time, some of the criticism of Clinton was really getting to Jan.

Ms. JAN PENCE: It's like any woman who's worked all her life and has attained a certain level. They're usually attacked. If they're attacked at all, they're attacked for their physical appearance, they're not warm, they're too warm, they're, you know, they're too this, that or the other. Come on, you're falling for it.

GREENE: When I caught Jan yesterday, she told me she watched Clinton's concession speech this past Saturday.

Ms. PENCE: We had - we had kind of a little group meeting, kind of a postmortem dinner Saturday night. We all went out for Chinese.

GREENE: Jan is 57; she teaches high school history. She said she's had friends talk about voting for John McCain this fall, if he picks a running mate who supports abortion rights.

Ms. PENCE: Because that would be a viable alternative to flip some of Hillary's supporters.

GREENE: Including you?

Ms. PENCE: Maybe. See, I still look at Obama, and like when we had talked in February, I see nothing there. This guy like fell out of heaven three and a half years ago.

GREENE: Yet Jan said Clinton's endorsement of Obama means a lot.

Ms. PENCE: That's pretty much what all of us decided at the end of our funeral dinner that we had Saturday, we'll do what Hillary tells us to do. But not right away, not right now, not this second.

GREENE: Why not this second? What do you need the time to do?

Ms. PENCE: Probably go through the five stages of grief.

GREENE: One thing Jan is holding out hope for is an Obama/Clinton ticket.

Ms. PENCE: We don't want her to go away. She's almost - you're going to think this probably is silly - but she's almost an Eleanor Roosevelt figure to us.

GREENE: Jan was talking to me from Youngstown. An hour west, in Cleveland, Buzz Brown(ph) owns a biotech company. I first interviewed him after a Hillary Clinton rally in March.

Mr. BUZZ BROWN (Clinton Supporter): As she said here tonight - she's been there, she's done it. We're asking for big trouble - the Democratic Party is asking for big trouble - to put a rookie in there.

GREENE: Yesterday, on the phone, Buzz said he still thinks Obama is a rookie.

Mr. BROWN: Yeah, I wouldn't - I won't vote for him. I mean, I was opposed to his nomination for reasons that haven't changed.

GREENE: Buzz said he's worried Obama could push tax policies that hurt businesses. And there's the short resume.

Mr. BROWN: We just got through eight years of an inexperienced ideologue. Now, Obama is smarter than Bush. So I'm hoping that's not as big a deal. But to me, you know, he just doesn't show me anything.

GREENE: Buzz said he's worried enough about Obama that he's leaning towards voting for McCain. Now, I have to say, one of my most memorable moments on the campaign trail was meeting Dottie Mack(ph). I overheard her singing right before a Clinton rally in Indiana last month. I had to ask her about her tune.

Ms. DOTTIE MACK (Clinton Supporter): I've been singing this for two months because the only W we need in the White House is a woman. And this is a song for Hillary.

(Singing) We want a woman in the White House, we want Hillary. We want a woman in the White House who'll work for you and me.

GREENE: And I got Dottie on the phone yesterday. She's also uneasy about Obama. Again, the issue is experience.

Ms. MACK: I'm 77 years old, and I've seen people who have bright ideas and don't know how to implement them.

GREENE: And if that's a risk with Obama, Dottie says she'll take it because it's her only option to get a Democrat in the White House. As for Dottie's song about getting a woman in the White House, I asked if she had stopped singing.

Ms. MACK: No. No, I'm still singing it. I still sing it. Because to me, it's a dream. It's my dream, David. That's my dream, and I know it will come true. I can dream that someday...

(Singing): We'll have a woman in the White House, and it might be Hillary.

GREENE: There you go.

Ms. MACK: And that's all I can do.

GREENE: David Greene, NPR News, Washington.

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