August 27th, 2008
01:18 PM ET

Can the Clintons defang the PUMAs?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/08/27/art.dnc.hillarysigns.jpg caption="Delegates hold up signs in support of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Tuesday."]John P. Avlon
Author, Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics

It’s Barack Obama’s convention, but the Clintons’ continue to suck up the oxygen in the Mile High City.

On the convention floor, Hillary buttons on delegates seem almost as prevalent as Obama paraphernalia. On the streets of Denver, the Obamafest is occasionally disturbed by roving bands of alleged Hillary Clinton supporters. And then there's the white Hummer with Colorado plates hanging Hillary-McCain signs out the window and slogans written on its side, “Yes, We Can: Plagiarize and Lie” and “Obama’s a fake — No-bama.”

Last night’s primetime Hillary speech was a chance for the faithful to hear their leader deliver an old-fashioned pantsuit barn-burner. But today is their D-Day, when the PUMAs are demanding a roll-call vote to honor her effort.

PUMAs are members of Party United Means Action, a political action committee or PAC started by Hillary Clinton supporters. PUMAs come in two breeds: the loyal Hillary supporters (essentially sober, conservative Democrats who believe that she was the more experienced candidate in a time of war) and the unhinged Obama-haters. Both types could inflict damage on the party this year.

“The PUMAs can’t deny Obama the nomination,” says longtime Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh, “but they can cost him the election.”

The McCain campaign hopes so. And most analysts see the recent tightening up of the race as having more to do with rising doubts about Obama than any renewed appreciation of John McCain’s political profile in courage.

As the courting dance for crossover votes reaches new intensity, the nation gets the bizarre spectacle of Republicans showing newfound empathy for Hillary Clinton. “Debra,” a new McCain ad, features Debra Bartoshevich, a defecting Hillary delegate from Wisconsin. The 41-year-old emergency-room nurse switches a Hillary sign for McCain sign and gives permission for others to do the same: “”A lot of Democrats will vote McCain. It’s OK, really.”

The wounds from which Barack Obama is now bleeding — the charges that he’s an inexperienced, liberal elitist — were inflicted by the Clinton campaign in the later primaries. The question is whether the Clintons can (or will) heal those wounds and defang the PUMAs. Bill and Hillary have been saying the right words about uniting around Team Obama, but the passion has been lacking. And it’s not just a matter of what they say, but what they do – on and off the stage, and on the campaign trail from now to November. News that Bill Clinton and Clinton campaign manager and former DNC Chairman Terry McCauliffe are leaving Denver before Obama’s Invesco Field speech on Thursday doesn’t help heal the Democrats.

The Obamas have been trying to bridge this divide. On Monday, Michelle Obama honored Hillary Clinton by name. The Clintons have been given not one, but two, primetime speaking roles during the convention. (By contrast, ex-President Jimmy Carter was tucked away opposite the All-Star game during Bill’s 1992 convention.)

But so far there’s little sign that these efforts have helped heal the bitter feelings. And as she took the podium, resplendent in orange, the question remained: Would Hillary deliver? Because she needed to make it crystal clear to the PUMAs: Do not derail the Democrats or vote for John McCain — not in my name.

Hillary gave a virtuoso performance that primarily reminded the convention that she is the rock star in the Democratic Party. Take out the obligatory references to Barack Obama sprinkled throughout the speech and it could have been her nomination address. It was if she wanted to inspire a bit of buyer’s remorse – with the warranty offer that she still owns Hillary2012.com. Tonight, Bill will have a second swing - and let’s see whether he makes the Commander in Chief argument on the nominee’s behalf.

Thursday will be game day for Barack Obama – his chance to firmly take the reins of his convention and his party - uniting Democrats, and then harnessing the 80% wrong-direction ratings to make the case to disaffected Republicans and Independents. He needs to build a muscular big tent – that builds on Bill Clinton’s gains while moving the Democrats beyond the Clinton era into the age of Obama.

soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. Lynn

    It will never be Obama's or the Clinton's party!!! It wil be the will for the people to vote!! the hell with Obama's big day! We will don't care about this big fan fair show, we want to know our families will be safe in the future , just not Obama's big rich friends. Maybe we should vote for McCain !!!

    August 28, 2008 at 12:59 am |
  2. Wendy

    I don't think the PUMAs will ever change their minds no matter what is said or who says it. They are not voting on the issues, they are actually voting against everything the Clintons have worked so hard to achieve. It's sad, there is so much at risk in the country & the world right now. Those that will vote against Obama so Hillary can run in 4 yrs. are risking her never being elected, many will do the same to her then as her supporters are doing to Obama now. The issues should come before the personalities, skin color or gender.

    August 27, 2008 at 11:32 pm |
  3. Daniel, SouthTx

    After hearing speech after speech, finally the right woman spoke and delivered a speech that all Democrats should be proud off, boy did Democrats mess up by not nominating her for president, her experience in politics and the backing from the Greatest President we have had in our generation, Bill Clinton, is second to none. Then Bill spoke, that's what we Democrats need to hear, a speech that only an experienced President can deliver, talking about the economy, deficit, leaders in the world, sounded like Bill of old. By the way I will still vote for Hillary as a write in candidate in November.
    Hillary in 2012.

    August 27, 2008 at 10:04 pm |
  4. Chris

    My God. Bill Clinton was magnificent. He was beyond riveting. I am in a hotel room with no tissue left. He hit every subject except the diminishing opportunity to get a college education without going backrupt.
    I doubt McCain is toothless, but he will definitately know he is in a fight. I hope this helps get a Democrat in the White House who can get us moving in the right direction. I can't handle much more of the status quo.
    Maybe now Michelle will relax a little. She looked terrified when Clinton walked up to the Podium. Obviously she did not quite know what he was going to say. I hope she takes it a little easier and talk s to these people insteading of letting her imagination run wild. From here on on, She will be dealing with a world of gigantic and horible facts and figures. There ain't no time left for Jackie Kennedy-like first ladies.

    August 27, 2008 at 9:34 pm |
  5. Jen

    I have been a Democrat since age 18 and recently registered Independent. I am a 34 year old African American female and I never thought that I would see the day that an African American was nominated for the presidency of the United States for which I will not cast a vote for. For me the presidency is beyond race, the presidency should be held by someone with experience. I believe Obama is arrogant and woos his supporters with fancy speeches full of fluff. He showed this arrogancce by selecting Biden as his running mate, instead of Hillary who earned 18 million votes. After 19 months of campaigning I still have no idea of his plan for the economy and to keep our country safe which are two very important items for me. So to end my comment, this November for the first time in my life, I will be casting my vote for a Republican, John McCain.

    August 27, 2008 at 9:29 pm |
  6. Cynthia

    Let's hope for her sake that she can defang them. They are directly tied to her political career, if Senator Obama happens to lose I'm sure there will be groups tlike the PUMAs cropping up all over the country.

    August 27, 2008 at 8:09 pm |
  7. lampe

    Adam: I gather you are for Obama, if you are are you happy he's The Democratic Nominee? If you are, do you think in your happiness, that you could be the better man and stop with the trash-talking about The Clinton's and their supporters? You are entitled to your vote, just like Clinton supporters are entitled to theirs. Making evil comments, and calling people names, is a little childish, sort of the same behavior that you accuse others of. Idol threats about paying later, will not help matters at all. Because other people can hold grudges too. So please think about understanding someone elses feelings when blogging. This party can not and will not unite, if people keep name calling and using all the other mean and evil comments that exist.

    August 27, 2008 at 7:33 pm |
  8. Chris in NC

    As a obama supporter, The bold concession that Hillary made at the convention tonight and holds in the best keeping of sacrafice for the greatest good; the most imoportant trait of pubilc service. The pumas have been silenced, thank you hillary you have one more supporter in your future endeavors

    August 27, 2008 at 7:13 pm |
  9. adam

    This election sould have been a sweep for the dems but seems like there are some trying to interrupt the process acting like infants because clinton did not win. Shame on you old babies, maybe you will feel better when your kids are drafted and sent to russia to fight and you will have NONE to blame but yourselves. PLAY NOW PAY LATER!!!!!! PUMAS should stay in the wild!!!!!!

    August 27, 2008 at 6:48 pm |
  10. Al from NJ

    Pumas don't want a man that has friends that they wouldn't associate with:
    Reverend Wright
    Father Plaeger
    Black Liberation Theology members
    Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam members
    Anti Semitic friends

    We think anyone that thinks Obama is so great should go have coffee with Louis Farrakhan, then go to Trinity United Church of Christ, visit Father Plaeger and invite Wright to their homes.

    Oh yes.......William Ayers should be a fellow coworker at the White House.

    August 27, 2008 at 5:19 pm |
  11. Al from NJ

    I am one of them.........NEVER!
    This has nothing to do about being a sore loser, this has everything to do with not liking Obama.
    He's not qualified, he's cocky, he's cheated, flip flopped and does not represent the man that we want in the White House.
    Obama is embarrassing.

    August 27, 2008 at 5:15 pm |
  12. Sharon Higman

    Hillary's speech was outstanding. If only she had done more like that before there would not be this mess now.

    I like the breaking to see how Michelle Obama was reacting. She certainly did not look happy. Showed her true self I believe

    August 27, 2008 at 5:06 pm |
  13. DoraMC

    So tired of CNN reporting biased views that would make the Republicans proud. Integrity has been lost by so much of the media. I never see reporters digging for anything negative on McCain. Next week will the question on the draft even come up or will it be brushed under the carpet as usual.
    I too was appalled by the interview of the LONE woman supporter for Hillary. Give us a break, we don't want Enquirer reporting.

    August 27, 2008 at 5:05 pm |
  14. HL

    The PUMAs are groups of devisive, rancous antagonists. They're antics and agendas are not supported or endorsed by Hillary Clinton and they do not represent her call for Democratic unity. But, by their actions they do seem to represent the Republican way of doing things, and that is – Push Up McCain Anyway-and-anyhow.

    August 27, 2008 at 5:01 pm |
  15. William A

    Well I just saw a piece on the Poltical Ticker Titled Hillary's Body Language and some guy going into all the detail about what persed lips, a grin, etc. etc. truly means! I can't believe this! Is it so hard for the Media to take this woman at face value without trying to find fault with everything she is associated with? Will the Media be hiring the same guy to let us all know what John's Body Language truly means when he gives his nomination speech?

    Let's cut this woman some slack please. She gave a star studded performance last night. She said and did all she could possibly do in support of Barack Obama, her party and supporters and this is the gratitude she receives? The Media seems to be her largest critic as the majority who watched her speech last night had nothing but rave reviews! The woman is a Legend in her own time for Heaven's Sake!
    Why is it so hard for some to recoginize her enormous talent, intellect, and political experience? I really feel for this lady.

    August 27, 2008 at 4:37 pm |
  16. Vegas

    The basis for the PUMAs isn't just Hillary...

    Many are moderates which Obama clearly isn't... McCain is more far more center than Obama... to the point of making the RNC angry on many occasions...

    The center goes center.... and Obama is FAR west left of the that

    August 27, 2008 at 4:14 pm |
  17. cindy atl ga

    yes she can, we dont really need them.they are more likely mccain's supporters.But we will succeed in getting Sen Obama elected I have a change of heart about mccain we dont need another term of bush,so all you undecided or confused voters do as I did move over to the real side

    August 27, 2008 at 4:04 pm |
  18. Susan


    It sounds like a 3rd Party movement to me !!!! Not a bad thing!!!! I think that we are the only democratic country that still has the two party system as the only viable option to select our candidates from.


    August 27, 2008 at 3:46 pm |
  19. Kara Jacks

    I am not sure that I was watching the same Convention. Yes there was a lot of cheering for Hillary and it did make me a little nervous when you kept breaking to see how Michelle was reacting to it but I think that what she said should stick if not her supporters do not belong in the voting booth.

    I think a lot of the discontent is being fed by the media and by the right. If anyone could make the jump from a Democratic platform to a Repulican platform based on the personality they have chosen to back they deserve four more years of the same.

    Kara Jacks

    August 27, 2008 at 3:14 pm |
  20. Annie Kate

    Just what is it that the Clintons need to do before all the Obama supporters and analysts decide they have done enough? Bill Clinton is by his own admission retired from politics; he does his foundation work and he does it well – I don't see that its unsupportive if he has to leave early to tend to business.

    Hillary gave a wonderful speech last night and yes it was about why she ran, what issues were important to her, and what she had wanted to do – in my mind she said all that to say – hey look Obama wants the same thing; if you are voting on the issues and for hope you can vote for Obama just as much as you could have voted for me – its not that big a leap. Her call for unity and for support for Obama reminded me of the Kennedy's – inspirational and visionary. We're lucky to have such talent in the Democratic party.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    August 27, 2008 at 2:46 pm |
  21. Mike, Syracuse NY

    I can't wait to see what the post convetion bump in the polls is. I predict less than 5 points. The post Biden announcement daily tracking poll had McCain 2 points up over Obama. Obama actually lost ground.

    Crystal, since when does going to law school or being a community activist qualify you to be President? You assume McCain is business as usual when there is no basis for that assumption.

    August 27, 2008 at 2:39 pm |
  22. Lynn

    The PUMA'S are not democrats at all, they are independents who goes any way the wind blows or they are republicans trying to get faithful democrats to side with them( Maybe recruited by Rush Limbaugh, during the Democratic primaries). If I were Obama I wouldn't worry about those individuals right now they just want some attention. But in the end if they vote against they're economical interest and McCain wins, they have no one to blame but themselves. Especially if they are predjudice there would be nothing Obama could say anyway, God Help Them. Just think, they might not even be able to pray they're way out of a bad situation for having such bias. Remember GOD SEES EVERYTHING and his memory is impeccable.

    August 27, 2008 at 2:16 pm |
  23. sandy

    Barack Obama has inflicted his own wounds. It is time people quit blaming the Clintons.

    Can Obama get back the momentum he had early on? That remains to be seen. He has sure done enough in his own actions and decisions to derail his train single handedly. He started running on his good judgment...I hope we start seeing some...right now I don't.

    August 27, 2008 at 2:15 pm |
  24. Dennis

    I'm surprised that Soledad O'Brien & Roland Martin aren't keynote speakers at the convention. They could explain why Rev. Wright isn't there to deliver a prayer.

    August 27, 2008 at 2:10 pm |
  25. Paris

    This is not about a grudge. This is about what is best for America.

    Hillary and Bill l know what it takes and they know Obama is not ready to lead this nation.
    When Bill and Hilary know and have gone on the records stating that
    Obama is not ready to be the President now by endorsing him they are betraying this country.

    They should put country first and party second.

    August 27, 2008 at 2:03 pm |
  26. Lacy

    This election will be decided by the voters, And Only The Voters!!

    These negative ads, false reporting, and rumors about both candidates is enough to make even the most die hard voter stay at home.

    Facts, that is what is important, only the facts. CNN does a great job reporting, but not enough straight facts. Get your magic board out and put up the facts, side by side. Lets see the issues, all of them side by side, and especially the experience of both Senators. Not them being a POW, I have a family member who was one of those, but I want actual facts on their experience and why they will be a great Commandar in Chief. You are great on keeping them honest so let's just do that keep them all honest, the Presidential and Vice Presidential Candidates lets see the real Facts.
    Thanks CNN.
    I will be watching you always produce the best Facts

    August 27, 2008 at 1:59 pm |
  27. JC- Los Angeles

    If Obama can't unify his own party prior to a convention, how on earth is he going to lead our nation and drive productive change?

    August 27, 2008 at 1:44 pm |
  28. Crystal

    It does not matter that John McCain was in the armed forces. It still does not qualify him to be the expert on National Security. If you have not been President of the US before you Do Not Have Experience. We cannot expect to do business as usual and expect different results. I do not know if Obama has all the answers, but I do know that with the old republican mentality John McCain certainly does not. So in order for complete change and difference in the administration we have to put a Democrat back in the White House. We always have to clean up what the Republicans mess up.

    August 27, 2008 at 1:42 pm |
  29. Cindy

    I don't think that anything that Bill or Hillary can say will sway the minds of the PUMAS or any other of her supporters who won't back Obama. They see him for what he is. She was SO much more than he will ever be. The Dems messed up supremely when they let her go!

    As far as Obama being a liberal elitist...you don't have to make that up. Look at his voting record in the Senate. He has voted with the liberal party and not the Dem party 96% of the time. And BTW...Biden has voted liberal 87% of the time! So no one really has to say anything...their voting record proves it!


    August 27, 2008 at 1:41 pm |
  30. Mamatha

    Hillary's speech last night was exceptional and will definitely help with the unity of the Democratic party.

    It was absolutely expected for the Republicans to rain on her parade (they must have their statements ready in advance) but very surprised when out of thousands of delegates, only one was interviewed by CNN...who conveniently turned out to be anti-Obama. Hope CNN has not joined the Republican bandwagon! Also hope that an anti-McCain delegate can be interviewed next week during the Republican Convention.

    Fair and unbiased reporting please!

    August 27, 2008 at 1:40 pm |
  31. Saad, Ramsey, NJ

    This is terrible.... simply terrible.... and because of this, the beneficiary will be Senator McCain. Not because Republicans have performed so well but because the way Democrats will act will make the Republicans lesser of the two evils. So sad when the policy and planning for current and future gets a back seat to personal grudges.

    August 27, 2008 at 1:35 pm |
  32. Dennis

    Gotta wonder about the camera panning between HRC & MO.

    August 27, 2008 at 1:35 pm |
  33. Jonathan

    I think it would be great if the leaders of the Democratic Party – the Clintons, Obamas, Kennedys etc all stood together in unity on stage at the end of the DNC. What a power visual of unity that would be!

    (A Canadian)

    August 27, 2008 at 1:29 pm |
  34. Jim

    This is not about Hillary. This is about the center rejecting the far left. The Obama supporters burned an important bridge long ago. Hillary 2012. Goodbye, far left. I hope that you enjoyed your moment in the sun. Painting the Clinton's as racists, now that was rich.

    August 27, 2008 at 1:27 pm |