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How many hard-core Hillary supporters will defect?

During the primary season around 9 p.m., when most of the world starts thinking about bedtime, Renee Slater would start pounding away at one of her two computers.

Often until 2 a.m., she'd urgently explain to the Internet world why Sen. Hillary Clinton should be president. Though not affiliated with the Clinton campaign, Slater was part of a vast army of volunteers who showed all of the resolve of their favored candidate.

But, of course, resolve didn't win Clinton the nomination, and when Clinton dropped out of the race, Slater channeled her intensity into something unexpected: The 51-year-old from Aventura left the Democratic Party, registered as an Independent and declared her support for Republican Sen. John McCain.

"McCain has always been a liberal Republican," said Slater, who made time to blog, unpaid, while getting a master's degree in accounting from Nova Southeastern University. "Why do you think the conservatives are not happy with him being the nominee? He is not your run-of-the-mill Republican."

The Democrats' long, intense primary created especially close attachments for some supporters to their candidates. In the end, many impassioned Clinton supporters, women in particular, said they couldn't switch their allegiance to Democratic Sen. Barack Obama. They promised to back McCain instead.

"Please don't go there," Clinton urged during her concession speech. "Every moment wasted looking back keeps us from moving forward."

After months of spending every free hour possible defending Clinton online, Slater has gone there. What's unclear is whether she's an anomaly or an outspoken example of a quiet problem that Obama may face in November.

"Supporters go through a grieving period, but then they'll realize McCain is much worse," said Jon Ausman, a Democratic National Committee member and super delegate who endorsed Clinton but supports Obama in the general election. "I think they'll come home. This is very normal."

To some former Clinton supporters, McCain doesn't seem so bad. He has long been considered a maverick who has spent much of his political career at odds with some in his party on things like stem cell research and campaign finance laws.

Slater said she prefers McCain to Obama because McCain has more political and governing experience. She said she's bothered by the fact that some of Obama's short time in the U.S. Senate has been spent running for president. (She said she's also turned off by "vicious" Obama bloggers.)

As for McCain's anti-abortion stance, a pro-choicer like Slater doesn't think it's the be-all, end-all issue of this election. She calls it a "Democratic threat intended to frighten."

"If they didn't outlaw abortion under Bush, who is far more conservative than McCain ever will be, I just don't think it's going to happen under McCain," said Slater, who contributed $1,625 to the Clinton campaign and has given in the past to the DNC and John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign.

Slater has joined other passionate Clinton supporters who have found solace on the Internet, blasting Obama and praising McCain on Web sites like hillaryclintonforum.net and hillarygreenmountain.com. They call themselves McCainocrats.

So far in Florida, the number of Clinton supporters and would-be Democrats in Florida who publicly endorse McCain is pretty tiny. A week after the Democrats officially chose their nominee, the McCain campaign touted three high-profile Democrats and Independents from Florida: Slater, former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco and a former sheriff of Highlands County, Howard Godwin.

While the decision to back McCain wasn't that difficult, the decision to come out and say it publicly was a move that two of the three lost sleep over. In fact, Godwin said there had been a mistake. He is a Democrat and does support McCain. But he never intended his choice to be made public and he didn't want to talk about it.

Slater said she was hesitant about talking publicly, because she was afraid Obama supporters would inundate her in-box with accusations of racism. Slater says race never entered her mind when she made her decision.

"I know that there's other people out there who feel like I do," Slater said. "They may be quiet about it, but they're out there."

Former Mayor Greco, 74, a Democrat, said he had no problem talking about his decision to support McCain. He said he always supports candidates based on their experience and character, not political party.

"I just think McCain is better equipped to make these changes. He's shown he can work both sides of the aisle," said Greco.

Many Florida Democrats and ardent Clinton supporters, including Clinton fundraiser Chis Korge of Miami, say Democrats will come around and support Obama when they realize that McCain has more in common with President Bush.

"This was a great race between two fantastic candidates and it's going to take some time to unify, and not everyone's going to come back," said Florida Obama spokesman Steve Schale. "But it's not like John McCain has a unified party either."

Excerpt from Slater's writing on the Web:

05-14-2008, 07:26 PM

Hillary, we are still with you, but understand as well.

We will not vote OBAMA, not now, not ever. After witnessing this disgrace of a hit on you, your campaign, Bill's Presidency, this Democratic party has become a bigger sham than the Repubs. This is worse than 2000 when Bush and his brother Jeb wrestled the election from Gore.

We have been forced to watch the raping of your campaign, and we have been forced to watch a "brokered convention" even before the primaries end. The DNC has told us who we will vote for. The last time I checked we were not yet a fascist nation. Not yet anyway.

Hillary, don't ask us to unite for Obama, we have already united for McCain.

How many hard-core Hillary supporters will defect? 06/24/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 30, 2008 12:54pm]
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