It’s all about beating McCain

Texas labor leader Ed Sills reported that at his Travis County Democratic caucus, March 4, there was both a record turnout and strong cooperation between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton supporters in setting up the delegate selection process.

It suggests that the media focus on Democratic in-fighting may be missing an important trend — the overwhelming desire of Democrats to unite to defeat John McCain in November.

March 4 bounced Clinton back after a string of Obama wins made him the frontrunner. Ohio and Rhode Island voters handed her decisive victories. The Texas primary was much closer, with Clinton beating Obama by three percent. Obama won Vermont and still holds the pledged delegate lead. But his campaign’s goal of clinching the nomination by winning at least one of the two big states proved elusive.

Like previous primaries and caucuses, there were huge voter turnouts in all four states. Democratic turnout dwarfed the Republican turnout 2 to 1. In Ohio’s Cuyahoga County, some polling places were kept open for an extra hour and a half because they ran out of paper ballots.

Meanwhile, John McCain clinched the Republican nomination, allowing him to focus on attacking and creating division among the Democrats and on raising money. His goal will be to try to peel away conservative voters who have migrated towards Clinton or Obama because of their disgust with President Bush.

But grassroots unity against the GOP was strong at the Texas caucuses. Sills, communications director for the Texas AFL-CIO, told a labor meeting in San Diego, that the crowd of 308 Democrats at his precinct easily agreed on procedures. Obama got about 70 percent of the caucus votes. The Obama and Clinton organizers worked together so well, Sills said, and the good feeling was so strong that all procedures and resolutions were passed by acclamation.

Everyone was happy, he said, that the number of Democrats was so large that they were able to fill the cafeteria in the Caraway Elementary School.

Texas Democrats held caucuses after primary voting to pick additional delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

Sills noted that he has been attending the Travis County caucus since 1994 and that he was the only Democrat at that first gathering. There were 30 Republicans.

In 2006, two Democrats showed up, Sills and Michael Murphy, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

In 1994, the precinct was 2-1 Republican. In 2006, Rep. Mark Strama, a Democrat, was elected to Congress there with a strong margin.

“If we can bottle what happened tonight, our precinct may be turning from purple to blue as surely as Texas may be going from red to purple,” Sills said.

Nationally, the Democratic presidential contest now turns to Wyoming (March 8), Mississippi (March 11) and then the next big prize, Pennsylvania, on April 22.

In her March 4 victory speech, Clinton said she would stay in the race, despite failing to win by large enough margins to overcome Obama’s lead. “We’re going on, we’re going strong and we’re going all the way. Millions of Americans haven’t spoken yet and they want their turn,” she told a small but exuberant crowd in Columbus, Ohio.

The Obama campaign said Obama leads in the popular vote for all 41 primaries and caucuses to date, has a more than 100-point delegate lead, and has won in 28 states to Clinton’s 13. They say Clinton cannot overcome the delegate gap.

The increasingly nasty tone that the Clinton campaign took in the last weeks is worrisome for many who want a united coalition going into the general election against McCain.

Clinton launched a media offensive combining security scare ads, complaints of unfair media treatment followed by appearances on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show,” and waving about a memo purporting to show Obama duplicity on NAFTA. This media onslaught seemed to sway undecided voters towards Clinton, and put Obama on the defensive.

McCain, Bush and their surrogates also attacked Obama. One far-right radio talk show host, introducing McCain in southern Ohio, delivered a racist diatribe against Obama. McCain apologized afterward, but the damage was done.

Obama was forced to combat Clinton’s national security offensive in the last few days, allowing Clinton to claim the number one issue for voters, the economy.

In Ohio, voters from union households numbered approximately 35 percent of the total vote and backed Clinton by about a 4 percent margin.

Obama, who has called for a new kind of politics, may have to put that aside for now and challenge Clinton more strongly.

But with six more weeks until the next big primary, Pennsylvania, many are concerned that the increasingly negative campaigning may hurt the Democrats.

In order for the Democrats to decisively defeat the Republican-right attack machine and win the White House – and Congress – a united party and coalition focused on the issues and one candidate is necessary, they say. The experience in Travis County’s Democratic caucus holds out promise that on the ground, determined voters will make that unity happen.

Joel Wendland contributed to this article.