By Tim Wheeler
PHILADELPHIA— With polls showing the gap between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama narrowing to single digits, the rival Democratic presidential candidates barnstormed across the state and volunteers went door-to-door to turn out voters in the crucial April 22 primary.
Obama fired up 38,000 supporters during an April 18 rally at Independence Mall in downtown Philadelphia. Thousands in the crowd wore the purple T shirts of the Service Employees International Union or waved “Teamsters for Obama” signs. “This election is our chance to declare our independence from the broken politics of Washington,” Obama told the cheering crowd. “No matter who we are supporting in this primary campaign, the one thing we know for sure is that the change the country needs will not come from a third George W. Bush term. And that is exactly what John McCain is offering…four more years of a war with no exit strategy, no end in sight, that’s sending our troops on their third, fourth, and fifth tours of duty….four more years of tax cuts for CEOs and corporations...”
So far this year, he added, 8,300 Pennsylvanians and 232,000 others have lost their jobs, millions are losing their homes in foreclosure and millions more are without health insurance or pensions. “I don’t think we can afford four more years of George Bush and John McCain’s ideas of economic progress. Its time to turn the page.”
Clinton is a politician who openly boasts that she can wheel and deal with the corporate lobbyists in Washington, Obama said. “I’m not running to be the president who plays the same old Washington games,” he thundered. “I’m running to end the game playing in Washington…I don’t believe we can take on the lobbyists if we keep taking their money….It will take a movement like we’ve built in this campaign…to change this country.”
Hundreds of Obama volunteers worked from a network of regional offices across the state. Connecticut volunteers worked the mostly Polish-American neighborhood of Port Richmond in Philadelphia. “We ran into a group of Hillary Clinton’s volunteers, members of the Communications Workers of America,” one New Haven volunteer told the PWW. “We had a wonderful talk with them. We refused to argue with each other and put our focus on the need to defeat McCain in November,” she said.
This reporter tagged along with a bus load of volunteers from Baltimore who fanned out east and west of Broad Street near Temple University. “You are in Obama territory,” said Gabe Gonzales. He urged those fluent in Spanish to step forward to work in Latino neighborhoods. “Philadelphia is fired up. This is a movement not just an election campaign.”
Gonzales decried Clinton’s attempt to exploit Obama’s use of the word “bitter,” to describe the anger of workers hit by plant closings. “I’m from Gary, I’ve lived through the plant shutdowns. I saw what it did to workers in my town. Bitter doesn’t begin to express how we feel. I’m pissed.”
At the other end of the state, Obama and Clinton spoke separately to an April 14 meeting of 2,000 steelworkers in Pittsburgh jointly sponsored by the United Steelworkers and a number of steel corporations. Obama got a standing ovation when he announced that if elected he will sign the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) making it easier for workers to join unions. He stressed the role of organized labor in providing higher wages and benefits in helping pull the nation out of recession.
While she did not mention it in her speech, Clinton, too, has endorsed the EFCA. She focused on “green jobs” to restore manufacturing. But when she dredged up Obama’s “bitter” comment the crowd booed. One woman worker shouted, “Your damn right. They took everything.”
Carl Davidson who lives near Aliquippa, PA. among the hardest hit by the shutdown of steel mills in Western PA. is active in Progressives For Obama, an offshoot of Progressive Democrats of America. “Obama has a very good shot at defeating McCain in November,” Davidson told the World in a phone interview. “If we can get a large number of voters under the age of forty to the polls, that will be critical to his victory.” He blasted Bill and Hillary Clinton for “playing the race card” and negative campaigning. “The racebaiting and redbaiting is really vicious. Hillary is really getting down to the bottom of the barrel.”
The negative campaigning has not produced any swing to her among Democratic superdelegates. Even with a narrow win here, Obama still holds an insurmountable lead in delegates.
Democratic Party National Chairman, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others are calling on superdelegates to announce their preferance by the end of June. Donna Brazile, an uncommitted superdelegate told the Wall Street Journal, “There’s a group around (Sen. Clinton) that really wants to take the fight to the convention. They don’t care about the Party. It scares me and that’s what scares a lot of superdelegates.”