Hillary’s veterans test, taunt
Barack’s beginners in Texas
ANNA Scott of, the Bowie County campaign field coordinator for , helped Ruth Blackwell, 83, with her e-mail address last week in .
Michael Stravato/NEW YORK TIMES
Vets vs. rookies: Clintonite connections
face Obamanite self-generating efforts
And Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign wasted no time in ensuring that it would remain so, moving almost three weeks ago into an old Beaux-Arts dowager near the empty storefronts of downtown and arming locals like Diana Johnson, a 60-year-old schoolteacher, with hundreds of carefully culled phone numbers.
But just a few blocks away, Althea Dixon and her cousin Cathy Conley-Vanhooks, with little initial support from Senator Barack Obama’s campaign, began diligently mounting the opposition. They set up in a donated former quickie-loan store, plugged in their computers and got the place cleaned up for a celebrity cameo by the actor Samuel L. Jackson, who was filming a movie in nearby .
The women did not seem to mind that their tiny office, with its wooden cactus decorations and plastic flowers, was not even listed on Mr. Obama’s campaign Web site. Nor that the candidate himself had no plans to appear anywhere near it before Tuesday’s primary, a contest fought in recent days with a fierceness that has few parallels in the state’s political history.
“I just felt that if I could be a dot on the ‘i’ in this thing, I should be,” said Ms. Dixon, 56, a graduate student who left school for the semester to devote herself to the campaign and calls herself an “Obama grandmama.”
In dozens of interviews across over the last two weeks with campaign workers, volunteers and voters, a similar picture has consistently emerged from place to place: a well-prepared Clinton campaign has relied on longtime friendships and deep connections to the state’s party operation here, especially in the highly organized, heavily Hispanic cities of South Texas. At the same time, the Obama campaign nearly always feels smaller – sometimes even makeshift, despite its considerable money advantage – but it also seems remarkably self-generating, drawing hundreds of the first-time campaign volunteers that have fueled his success elsewhere.
“I remember they put out the call right after the Chesapeake primary for volunteers to help set up offices, to paint, bring in furniture,” said Adam Schiffer, an assistant professor of political science at Texas Christian University in , where the Obama campaign had three campaign offices to Mrs. Clinton’s one (she recently opened a second). “They had set aside two days for the job. Before my students could even volunteer, they sent another message saying they had enough volunteers already, and they finished in only one day.”
It is still not clear whether that kind of enthusiasm – volunteers renting trucks to haul signs, one pulling out her own credit card to address a pizza debt – will translate into enough ballot check marks (and crucial caucus attendance) in this highly diverse, often unpredictable state, where Mr. Obama still has the support of far fewer vote-delivering Democratic officials.
“It’s been lonely for a long time,” said Juan M. Garcia, a state representative from and a Harvard Law School classmate of Mr. Obama’s, describing the sense of being one of a small number of Hispanic officials supporting him.
But Mr. Garcia quickly noted that on the sole occasion when Mr. Obama visited Corpus Christi, on Feb. 22, organizers had to scramble to find a large enough site. (He drew 6,500 to a convention center that can seat about 10,000; a week earlier, Mrs. Clinton had drawn around the same number or slightly more in nearby .) Part of the reason Mr. Obama is attracting such crowds in Corpus Christi, a heavily industrialized city on the Gulf of Mexico where Mrs. Clinton’s support remains strong, particularly among Hispanic voters, is that for more than three months before he came, volunteers like Chris Barrett, 22, a graduate student at the Texas A&M University campus in the city, had been networking online to generate support for him.
“I’d never met any of them before,” Mr. Barrett said of the initial group of volunteers who gathered last November at his apartment after finding each other on my.barackobama.com. He added, “I’ve never been involved in a political campaign before.”
By contrast, at Mrs. Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Corpus Christi, in a former dance studio in a strip mall, most of the regulars have been laboring in Democratic trenches for decades. Like Barbara Cline, 81, who calls herself the “mother hen” of local Democrats, and Tony Dominguez, a former president of the United Steelworkers Union local in the city, who tells campaign war stories stretching back to Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s presidential bid in 1980, when Mr. Dominguez drove him around town. (Mr. Kennedy revisited the city two weeks ago – to campaign for Mr. Obama. Mr. Dominguez did not go to see him; grinning, he says he tells people that Mr. Kennedy is a “has-been.”)
While Mrs. Clinton’s campaign has also generated more first-time volunteers and many more small-money Internet donors in than it has elsewhere, the difference in the grass-roots flavor of the campaigns can be seen almost everywhere. Type “Texans for Obama” into a search engine, for example, and one of the top results is a volunteer blog with hundreds of entries stretching back almost a year. Doing the same with “Texans for Hillary” or “Texans for Clinton” brings up texansforhillary.com, which has no content, and texas4hillary.com, a blog with entries going back only to Feb. 10. (There are smaller blogs that are either part of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign Web site or the Democratic National Committee’s Web site.)
Over the last two weeks, the feet-and-phone-call operations of the campaigns have been mounted alongside a heavy bombardment of television advertisements in which the Obama campaign spent about $10 million to the Clinton campaign’s $5 million. Commercials for both campaigns have focused mostly on working-class issues like jobs and health care. Mr. Obama has briefly tried out his Spanish, while a Clinton advertisement flatters Texans’ spirit of practicality as a means of sowing doubts about Mr. Obama.
“In , when there’s work to be done, talk doesn’t cut it,” the narrator says, over footage of a burly man hoisting a hay bale into the back of a pickup.
But for many voters still trying to make up their minds, Mr. Obama’s talk – perhaps helped by his solidifying image as an electoral winner – seems to be connecting, even among those the Clinton campaign has relied upon in other states, like women and working-class voters. Casting her ballot one recent morning in downtown Texarkana, Debby Oxford, a retired schoolteacher, said she had voted for Mr. Obama. “I have a group of women friends and they’re all liberal and they’re all going for Obama,” she said.
The night before, at Quincey’s Irish Pub, just over the Arkansas line, Rendy Oliver and James Estes, two waiters who live on the Texas side and work at a nearby upscale restaurant, Timothy’s, said they were also going to vote for Mr. Obama, though both had voted Republican in the past. Mr. Estes, 34, who served six years in the Army, with tours in the , said he had decided to cross party lines mostly because of the war in Iraq.
“This is the first time I’ve voted Democrat, ever,” he said, sounding surprised. He said he supported Mr. Obama because he believed he could actually bring about at least some of the change that is the core of his message.
“I see him as a person who is reaching out more to voters without the good old boy system that’s now in effect, screwing up the country,” Mr. Estes said. Of Mrs. Clinton, he said, “I think she still has the obligation to grease the right palm.”
Though such talk is widespread, it has not daunted the Clinton forces. Michael Trujillo, director of Mrs. Clinton’s field offices, said the campaign had rapidly mobilized ground support in places like the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area, which could prove to be where the campaign is won or lost, with 26 of the state’s 228 delegates at stake and a pool of almost 700,000 potential voters who supported Senator John Kerry in 2004.
“Our base is primed for a major surprise in and ,” Mr. Trujillo said. And members of that base still sound confident, even with recent polls showing that Mr. Obama had erased Mrs. Clinton’s early lead in the state.
“I have a good feeling that has support for Hillary,” said Doris Jordan, 29, a financial manager who signed up as a precinct captain, the first time she has worked for a campaign. “I’ll have my Hillary button, and when I walk through the grocery, people say, ‘Hey, I’m supporting Hillary too!’ ”
ILLINOIS, speaking here in on Friday, 29 February, is the undisputed frontrunner for the Democratic Party nomination to the November U.S. presidential election.