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Analysis: Hard to let go of hopes for Clinton

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story contains information corrected from the version posted earlier. Please see an explanation below.

DENVER — They're loyal Democrats, they care deeply about their party's priorities, and they want to change the direction of the country.

So how in the world can so many of them talk about skipping the presidential election because instead of Hillary Rodham Clinton, it's Barack Obama who broke a historic barrier Wednesday and became the Democratic presidential nominee?

"If I can't vote for him it will break my heart, because I have been supporting minorities my whole career and he represents the hope of so many people,'' said Hillsborough County Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank, recounting that she was 2 when her mother died and that she was largely raised by an African-American woman. "But on the other hand, the intellectual part says, 'Can this person handle the responsibility?' I go through this every single day, and I read absolutely everything there is about Obama."

Frank is more open to voting for Obama after Sen. Clinton's call to unite behind him, but like many other ardent Democrats she still may skip voting in the general election. Some of the reasons are murky, some are unspoken, and some visceral.

"I hear it from people but just can't understand that kind of thinking,'' fretted Alex Sink, Florida's Democratic chief financial officer and a close friend of Frank's. "Every time I think about the possibility of a President McCain, where it concerns almost any important issue to women, it's a frightening thing to me. They really need to think about what's at stake."

Among the passionate Clinton supporters at the Democratic National Convention, the talk of not voting for Obama was noticeably scarcer after Clinton's Tuesday speech urging unity behind the nominee. Clinton repeated the message Wednesday afternoon when she halted the roll call vote to declare Obama the nominee by acclamation.

"Let's declare together in one voice right here, right now, that Barack Obama is our candidate and he will be our president," she said to cheers and chants of "Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!"

But even as many of her pledged delegates voted to nominate Obama with Clinton's blessing, they acknowledged plenty of other Democrats aren't there yet.

What may prove the most important question of this election is why.

State Sen. Nan Rich of Broward County, a friend of Clinton's since 1985, said no one should underestimate the disappointment of elderly women who pined to see a female president before they died.

"I watched my constituents at Sunrise Lakes, many of them in their 80s and 90s, stand in line for hours in January to vote for Hillary because they loved her, and they wanted to see a woman in the White House,'' Rich said. "It takes time to get over that."

Dianne Glasser, another Broward Democrat and member of the Democratic National Committee, hears explanations from elderly Jewish Democrats in her community: Obama is inexperienced, he's arrogant, he snubbed the Clintons or blew it by not naming her as his running mate.

"In the end, with all the different questions they say about him, I'm afraid it comes back to the basic issue — race. The rest is just an excuse," she said. "I do see the reaction to him changing, I really do. I'm not seeing everybody change, but people need to realize that issues are more important than color."

State Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale, said the number of former Clinton supporters ruling out Obama has shrunk a lot in recent weeks in South Florida.

"It's almost like they experienced a death, and they're going through a period of grieving but they'll be there for him by November,'' said Geller, downplaying the race issue. "Among senior Jewish Democrats like the condo leaders, the concerns about Obama have been the name. If this was Johnny Jones, black guy from New York or Chicago, he wouldn't have as much concern.''

Conversations with Democrats voting in Spring Hill this week showed racial considerations are common.

Judy Avila, a 55-year-old homemaker and Democrat, can't stand McCain but said she may vote for him anyway. She spoke about Obama's lack of experience before veering into questions about his religion and racial views.

"It's a little scary to think that he would be leading the country,'' she said. "Is it time to turn the country around and make white people the slaves?"

But she is hardly typical of the Clinton supporters not yet ready to back Obama.

"If that were it, would I have named my first child after Barbara Jordan?" asked Mary Kay Jiloty, who questions Obama's readiness to lead and is still livid that the Illinois senator did not support counting Florida's primary votes early on.

"If he wants me to trust him, he should have stood up back in January, February, even May and said, 'Give Florida a vote.' That's one of the reasons I have lingering doubts about trusting him," said Jiloty, who cast her delegate vote for Clinton on Wednesday.

Kathy Webb has been voting for Clintons since 1976, and, as a longtime Democratic and women's rights advocate from Little Rock, Ark., she saw Sen. Clinton's campaign for president as the result of years of hard work and the realization of a dream.

So as she described Wednesday how she cast her vote for the Democratic nomination at the party's convention for Sen. Barack Obama, she almost cried.

"I felt like it was the right thing to do," Webb, a state representative, said, fighting back tears.

Clinton greeted her delegates, fans and the curious in a spacious ballroom near the Pepsi Center an hour and a half before the roll call was to begin. She thanked them for their work and revisited the theme that many of her supporters found so compelling the night before: "I have always believed that elections are not about the candidates," Clinton said. "They are about people."

The crowd cheered her at every opportunity, but they applauded when she urged them to unify behind Obama, too. They appeared disgruntled just once: When Clinton said she was there to release her delegates, so that they could choose Obama instead.

Shouts of "No! No! No!" rose from the crowd. Eventually, she silenced them. Do whatever is best for you, she said.

But when she cast her vote with the New York delegation earlier in the day, she told the crowd, she cast it for Barack Obama.

Times staff writers Wes Allison and John Frank contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8241.

CORRECTION: Pat Frank is clerk of the circuit court in Hillsborough County. A different position was given in earlier versions of this story.

Analysis: Hard to let go of hopes for Clinton 08/27/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 29, 2008 3:45pm]
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