Heated campaign souring Democrats on rival candidates
By ALAN FRAM
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Loyal Democrat Richard Somer says if Hillary Rodham Clinton gets his party’s presidential nomination, he just may sit it out this Election Day.
A Barack Obama supporter, Somer says he has been repulsed by her use of “slimy insinuations” in the campaign. He especially disliked her attacking the Illinois senator for his relationship with William Ayers, a former Weather Underground radical with provocative views.
“She’s better than that,” said Somer, 72, a retired professor from Clinton, N.Y. He said he expects the Democrats to carry New York anyway, so he might not vote “as a protest to Mrs. Clinton.”
Somer is not the only Democrat whose views of his party’s rival candidate have soured.
Party members increasingly dislike the contender they are not supporting in the bruising nomination fight, an Associated Press-Yahoo News survey and exit polls of voters show. That is raising questions about how faithful some will be by the November general election.
In the AP-Yahoo poll — which has tracked the same 2,000 people since November — Obama supporters with negative views of the New York senator have grown from 35 percent in November to 44 percent this month, including one-quarter with very unfavorable feelings.
Those Obama backers who don’t like Clinton say they would vote for Republican candidate John McCain over her by a two-to-one margin, with many undecided.
As for Clinton supporters, those with unfavorable views of Obama have grown from 26 percent to 42 percent during this same period — including a doubling to 20 percent of those with very negative opinions.
The Clinton backers with unfavorable views of Obama say they would vote for McCain over him by nearly three-to-one, though many haven’t made up their minds.
“I’d be hard pressed” to vote for Obama, said April Glenn, 66, a Clinton supporter from Philadelphia, who said his handling of the controversy over the anti-American preachings of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, made her doubt his leadership skills. “I don’t think he’s capable.”
Clinton backers who have taken a dislike to Obama have a sharply lower regard for his honesty and ethics than they did last fall, the poll shows. Obama supporters whose view of Clinton has dimmed see her as far less compassionate and refreshing than they did then.
The feelings seem especially widespread among the candidates’ strongest supporters:
—About half of Obama’s white backers with college degrees have negative views of Clinton. Fewer black Obama supporters dislike Clinton but their numbers have grown faster, more than doubling during the period to 33 percent.
—Among Clinton’s supporters, Obama is disliked by nearly half the whites who have not gone beyond high school, a near doubling since November. Four in 10 white women backing her have unfavorable views of Obama.
Intensified passions during contentious intraparty fights are nothing new, and voters often return to the fold by the time the general election rolls around and people focus on partisan and issue differences.
“These are snapshots of today,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., a member of his party’s congressional leadership who has not committed to Clinton or Obama. By autumn, he said, “the party will come together.”
Yet with the battle between the two contenders threatening to stretch into June or beyond, some Democrats are wondering whether the party will have time to regain the loyalty of those whose candidate failed to win the party’s nomination.
“If we can bring this to a conclusion by mid-June or something, I think that healing can take place,” Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, who has been pressing party leaders to settle on a nominee quickly, said in an interview. “If it goes till late August, then it’s a real problem.”
Others express concern but argue that the divisions are not nearly as intense as when the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago was split over the Vietnam War; when Ronald Reagan unsuccessfully fought President Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976; or when Sen. Edward Kennedy lost a bitter duel with President Carter to be the 1980 Democratic nominee. In each case, those parties’ nominees lost the general election.
“It is not the same kind of rancor or bitterness” as those years, said Democratic pollster Peter Hart.
If by July 4 the Obama and Clinton campaigns are still maneuvering for advantage at the party’s August convention, it will be harder to unify party voters and “Democrats will have done grievous harm to themselves,” he said.
Obama and Clinton campaign officials express little concern their fight will leave Democratic voters disaffected come November.
“When the family squabble is over, the family will come back together,” said Obama pollster Cornell Belcher.
Current Democratic divisions are “par for the course” at this stage of a campaign,” said Clinton strategist Geoffrey Garin.
“I know a lot of party leaders are concerned about this. But the Democratic rank and file doesn’t seem to be,” Garin said, citing polls showing people want the nomination race to continue.
Exit polls of voters in this year’s Democratic primaries tell a similar tale of hard feelings:
• In Pennsylvania’s primary last week, which Clinton won, 68 percent of Obama voters said they would back Clinton against McCain. Just 54 percent of her supporters said they would vote for Obama against the Republican — including less than half her white voters who have not finished college.
• In the 16 states that held primaries on Super Tuesday Feb. 5, a combined 47 percent of Clinton voters said they would be satisfied only if she won the nomination. That figure has grown to 53 percent in the nine states with primaries since then — including 58 percent who said so in Pennsylvania.
• In Pennsylvania, while Clinton voters overall would vote heavily for Obama over McCain, her supporters who expressed displeasure should Obama win the nomination were evenly split in a contest between Obama and the Arizona Republican senator.
• Obama voters have also grown more surly, though more modestly. On Super Tuesday, 44 percent of his supporters said they would only settle for him as nominee — a number that has risen to 49 percent in states voting since that day.
“The whole Democratic primary has gotten almost dirty. Everybody takes a shot at everybody else, and everybody’s shots are not necessarily the whole truth,” said David Bogart, 25, a caretaker from Clermont, Fla.
Exit polls also show key voting blocs’ negative feelings about their candidate’s rival have grown, though it is less intense on Obama’s side.
On Super Tuesday, about half of Clinton’s white supporters with less than college degrees said they would be satisfied only if she won the nomination. In voting since then, six in 10 have said so — including 68 percent in Pennsylvania last week.
On the other hand, 46 percent of Obama’s black supporters on Super Tuesday said he was the only candidate they wanted to win. That number has edged up to 49 percent since that Feb. 5 voting — including 55 percent in Pennsylvania.
The findings from the AP-Yahoo News poll are from interviews with 863 Democrats on a panel of adults questioned in November, December, January and April. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
The poll was conducted over the Internet by Knowledge Networks, which initially contacted people using traditional telephone polling methods and followed with online interviews. People chosen for the study who had no Internet access were given it free.
The exit poll is based on in-person interviews with more than 36,000 voters in 28 states that have held primaries this year in which both candidates actively competed. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 1 percentage point, larger for some subgroups.
AP Director of Surveys Trevor Tompson and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.
Published in The Messenger 4.30.08