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How Obama Won a N.H. Legislator's Support

CONCORD, N.H. -- If Barack Obama was dragging at all as he headed into his final of four weekend appearances with Oprah Winfrey on Sunday night, he got an extra bounce just before he took the stage. It was in the bowels of the Verizon Center in Manchester, N.H., just moments before Obama joined Oprah and his wife before a crowd of 8,000, that Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, a first-year congresswoman from New Hampshire, told Obama that after months of indicating she would stay neutral in the state's presidential primary, she had decided to go ahead and endorse him.

"He had no idea when he came to the arena. I kept it quiet from everyone," Shea-Porter said in an interview Tuesday. "I told him I believed that he'd bring people out and bring the change we want."

The endorsement carried more of a jolt than one would normally expect from a rookie congresswoman, and caused some disquiet among Clinton campaign officials here who'd been led to believe that Shea-Porter was going to stay on the sidelines. Shea-Porter, a social worker by profession, won a following among liberal New Hampshire Democrats with her out-of-nowhere victory last year on an antiwar, grassroots platform over the far-better funded incumbent in the state's eastern congressional district, helping throw both of the state's seats into Democratic hands and providing perhaps the most unexpected of the party's many pickups across the country.

Since arriving in Washington, Shea-Porter has hardly dulled her liberal fervor, which had previously included being booted from a President Bush event in Portsmouth for wearing an anti-Bush T-shirt. Among her causes are a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, single-payer health care in the form of "Medicare for all," and the elimination of the income cap for Social Security taxes.

The other state's other new congressman, Rep. Paul Hodes, endorsed Obama last summer, setting up, with Shea-Porter's nod, an interesting dynamic within New Hampshire Democratic circles. While Clinton has the support of many of the state's political veterans, including the president of the state Senate, Speaker of the House and a plurality of of state legislators, Obama now has in his camp the two newest -- and highest-level -- Democrats on the state scene.

The Shea-Porter move may well increase pressure from the Clinton campaign on Gov. John Lynch and former governor Jeanne Shaheen, who is running for Senate next year. While their spouses are backing Clinton -- influential political power broker Billy Shaheen is the co-chairman of Clinton's campaign here -- Lynch and Shaheen have said they will remain neutral.

The Clinton campaign apparently did not let Shea-Porter go to Obama without a fight. Shea-Porter, whose own campaign last year was chaired by Billy Shaheen, said she was in communication with top Clinton campaign officials between the time she gave Obama the word Sunday evening and the official announcement Tuesday.

"I did speak to people inside the [Clinton] campaign," Shea-Porter said. "Obviously, there's outreach there." She declined to specify the level on the Clinton side from which the calls came, saying only that President Clinton, who has been known to call to try to head off key endorsements, "did not try to call me as far as I know."

Mary Rauh, a co-chair for Obama's New Hampshire campaign, cheered the endorsement, saying it carried more weight for Shea-Porter's unconventional background. "She's just an anomaly. She's very New Hampshirish in a lot of ways, hardworking, very close to the people," Rauh said. "She's quite a unique legislator."

The endorsement represented something of a setback for the John Edwards campaign in New Hampshire, given that Shea-Porter shares many of Edwards' liberal positions, as well as his strong ties in online activist circles. Jon Bresler, a local Democratic activist backing Edwards, said that while the endorsement came quite late in the game, he expected it might sway some of Shea-Porter's strongest supporters. "They would walk through water for her," he said. "If any of those folks were undecided it would give them a strong signal."

The news sparked a brief skirmish on Blue Hampshire, a blog for New Hampshire Democrats, about whether Shea-Porter had been influenced by campaign contributions from Obama's political action committee. But this speculation was shot down by Kathy Sullivan, a former chairwoman of the state party and co-chair of the Clinton campaign in the state. "Anyone who knows [Shea-Porter] knows that is a boatload of hooey. I know there are only four weeks to go to the election, but that is not an excuse for attacking" her, wrote Sullivan. "You aren't helping Hillary when you attack [Shea-Porter] ...I am co-chair of the Hillary Clinton campaign here in New Hampshire, and no, attacking [Shea-Porter] like this is not acceptable to the campaign or to me... If you want to do tough issues comparison on Obama or other candidates, have at it, but this is baloney."

There was also speculation in New Hampshire Democratic circles that Shea-Porter may have decided to throw in with Obama for broader reasons of self-interest: a belief that she would fare better in her reelection bid next fall with Obama at the top of the ticket. The New Hampshire GOP is gunning to get her seat back next year (with Bradley preparing for a rematch), arguing that the district is out of step with a congresswoman who, among other things, had her Dover, N.H., office serve hot apple cider to antiwar protesters.

Shea-Porter said in the interview that she decided to endorse after all partly out of a sense that she and Obama shared a similar approach to politics. "There's a kinship there," she said. "It's the idea that all the people matter and that the answer comes from getting people involved in the process. He's been so good at engaging people and getting them to realize that they can get engaged for their own destiny. This is bigger than any policies. It's getting us to restore our confidence as a nation, and he's the one to do that."

Obama was equally effusive in his introduction of Shea-Porter in the arena crowd on Sunday night, which is not surprising in hindsight knowing that he got the word from her just minutes before. "This woman is doing the right thing each and every day, every step of the way," he said.

--Alec MacGillis

By Web Politics Editor  |  December 12, 2007; 8:45 AM ET
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Strategic Vision poll coming out tomorrow shows Obama leading in Iowa 33 % to Clinton's 25 %. Who said that Oprah had no effect on the campaign ?

Posted by: vbalfour | December 12, 2007 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I like Obama and Clinton. Either one I would be happy with. I'm not quite sure how or why Obama thinks he can actually change the lobbying that goes on in Washington. That's a pipe dream at best if not an out right lie. It's our system of capitalism/democracy and no amount of elequent speak will change it. And he knows it.

Posted by: tmcinroy | December 12, 2007 1:59 PM | Report abuse

No one really expected that Clinton's lead would last. The race was bound to tighten as Obama began to spend significant amounts of ad money. Despite the 'fresh face' appeal and the 'Clinton fatigue,' Hillary has maintained a solid national lead. Combined with the fact that she has the best mind of the candidates and the best organization is her historic candidacy. Don't eulogize her just yet. In two months you will be talking about how she became the 'comeback kid' and waltzed to victory.

Posted by: tritter | December 12, 2007 1:07 PM | Report abuse

VP spot maybe?

Posted by: sam51 | December 12, 2007 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Well, it certainly does still look like Hillary's way ahead in the rest of the country, but that's been gradually fading. She's at - what? - 40% nationally, which is quite a drop. 16% on that recent survey said their reason for supporting a candidate was "married to Bill Clinton". Not 16% of her support, but 16% of all support for all Democratic candidates. So that's 40% of her support (unless some survey respondants were having a laugh).
The problem with that support is that while people who were actually close to Bill will stay loyal, most regular people (ie voters) are only loyal out of brand name recognition. Nationally - and this is hard for us news junkies to understand - people really don't know much about Obama. It would be like calling people up and asking whether they prefer Coca-Cola or some unspecified "new" drink with a funny name, then declaring Coke the winner. The good news (for Obama, not for Clinton) is that these early states show that the more people learn about him, the more they like him. That handful of early victories would take Hillary's already-eroding national lead and turn it into a non-entity. No matter how good the recent NYT/CBS poll was for her, the hits just keep on coming for Obama and the momentum is definitely his.

Posted by: eightspeeder | December 12, 2007 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Here's my 2 cents on the race.

Although Obama has caught up to Hillary in the early contests (Iowa, NH, and SC), Hillary still is the solid favorite. The national polls still show her with a large lead (which is also reflected in polls of the Feb 5th primary states).

The main problem for Obama is that, while in the early states where he has invested the time and the resources he has made progress, the primary calendar favors Hillary. The shear number of primaries on Feb 5 prevents Obama from introducing himself to these voters in the same way as he has done in the early states. Thus, I don't think a series of narrow victories by Obama in the early states will prevent Clinton from winning in the end. (of course, if Clinton wins early, the race is done). Obama would have benefited from a more drawn out primary calendar.

There is, however, one nightmare scenario for the Clinton campaign. Obama wins Iowa and New Hampshire. Then in South Carolina, after African-Americans see that Obama really has a shot at winning, the African-American vote breaks sharply for Obama (currently Clinton is receiving significant support) and Obama not only wins South Carolina but wins by a crushing margin (more than 15%). This type of victory would really shake the Clinto machine - to a degree where I don't think that they could recover.

Posted by: JasonT910 | December 12, 2007 11:02 AM | Report abuse

why didnt you mention that Barak gave Carol $5000 from his PAC after he announced for president?
He bought Carol.

Posted by: newagent99 | December 12, 2007 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Hillary is indeed in serious trouble. The race is being shaken up. Look for Edwards to arise out of the shakeup.

Posted by: river845 | December 12, 2007 10:32 AM | Report abuse

This is a huge endorsement. Hillary is now in serious trouble in all 3 early states including NH. According to new poll by University of New Hampshire, Obama has caught Hillary. She once had a 20 point lead there now it is 1 point. I suspect Obama numbers are even better than that because this survey was done before full effect of the Oprah rally and endorsement by Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter. Looking good for Barack! Meanwhile serious turmoil is being reported in Clintonia.

Posted by: zb95 | December 12, 2007 10:07 AM | Report abuse

What's wrong with hot apple cider?

Posted by: bjohnson | December 12, 2007 10:04 AM | Report abuse

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