Vindicated McEntee Sounds Off
By Alec MacGillis
Among those breathing a big sigh of relief -- and crowing a bit in vindication -- after Hillary Clinton's victories in Ohio and Texas this week is Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the giant union that endorsed Clinton last fall. A week ago, it looked like AFSCME might be on the verge of again going down with a losing candidate, as it did when it backed Howard Dean four years ago. On top of that, the union was facing an internal rift, with seven of its board members objecting to aggressive radio ads the union had run against Barack Obama.
Now AFSCME's candidate is back in the hunt, and McEntee couldn't be more pleased. In a telephone interview from San Diego, where he is attending the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting this week, McEntee said Tuesday had set Clinton on a path to winning the nomination, had badly undermined Obama's case for being the Democratic standard-bearer, and had made it all the more crucial for Democrats to seat the delegates won by Clinton in Florida and Michigan.
"It was truly a turning point in the election. Her message is really starting to reverberate with the voters, with the populace. I think that the experience factor, the national security factor, all of that is beginning to mold into what is a good campaign and a good way to go into November....She truly demonstrated that she was a fighter and that was what people want," he said. "And some of the gloss is appearing to come off of Senator Obama."
McEntee said Clinton's strength in Ohio had "knocked this idea of [Obama's] electability into a cocked hat." Her winning Ohio should matter far more to Democrats than Obama's wins in red states like Kansas or North Dakota. "A Democrat has to be able to carry Ohio. She demonstrated that she can change it from red to blue," he said. "Not to belittle Alabama or Utah or Nebraska, but these are red of the darkest color." He dismissed Obama's wins in other swing or borderline swing states such as Colorado, Virginia and Wisconsin. "I don't see Minnesota being a swing state, and he won Missouri by a feather," he said.
How will Clinton win the nomination when Obama's gap in pledged delegates may be hard to close? "I think Pennsylvania is a big contest and I think she wins it and she picks up some delegates there," he said. "And then of course they've got to sort out Florida and Michigan....Almost two million people voted, [the candidates] all followed the rules and she won it going away....They all treated [Florida] the same, nobody campaigned there, it was almost like a Democratic political laboratory and people made up their mids and voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton."
Should there be a revote? "I don't know if they should have revotes," he said. "The Democratic Party has an obligation to truly settle this on terms that are fair to the people who participated. If they don't satisfy the people of Florida, there is a possibility that we lose Florida" in November.
Beyond that, he said, "we've still got Puerto Rico and the superdelegates as well, put all that together and there are a lot of delegates in flux. It'll be hard for him to get to [a delegate majority] and hard for her too, but when you put that whole package together it's possible for her, sure," he said.
Did he feel any vindication given rival unions that endorsed Obama when it appeared last month like he might be coasting to victory, such as the Teamsters and Service Employees International? "Yeah, we do."
Does he worry that the drawn-out fight for the nomination will hurt the party in the general election? "I think it's called the Democratic Party for a reason, there'll be debate and discussion, but you know, the biggest thing we have going for us is the record of George W. Bush," he said. "If I was John McCain going to have lunch at the White House, I'd ask for take-out rather than go there be with [Bush] with his approval ratings around 29 percent. I don't know about that endorsement at all. The angst created by eight years of George Bush and Dick Cheney will go a long way toward uniting the Democratic Party."
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