Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild doesn’t look like a radical.
Surrounded by bike paths, ponds and the Atlantic Ocean in her Martha’s Vineyard farmhouse, not far from where Bill and Hillary Clinton usually summer, the lifelong Democrat and Clinton fund-raiser opened a laptop to her “Together4Us” Web site, an online petition that features Hillary Clinton looking luminous above a series of demands made of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.
Ms. de Rothschild, 54, dressed in matching blue pants and sweater, blond hair tucked behind her ears, said she plans to send copies of the more than 6,000 signatures she has collected to superdelegates, Mr. Obama, his top officials, Howard Dean and officials at the Democratic National Committee, on Aug. 18—the Monday before the Democratic convention.
And she’ll be there, at the convention, to help press those demands, she said, especially including a dramatic overhaul of the nominating process by which Mr. Obama won the primary. She said she was well aware of Mrs. Clinton’s efforts to get Mr. Obama elected, as well as the efforts of the Obama campaign staffers, whom she said she liked, to appease Mrs. Clinton’s supporters. Despite it all, Ms. de Rothschild does not plan to vote for him.
“I think it’s difficult for him to fix it because of the judgments he’s made in the past and his lack of experience,” she said, adding that there was really nothing Mrs. Clinton could do about it. “If we are dissatisfied with Obama as a potential president, Hillary cannot be expected to change our minds.”
A phenomenon born from the debris of Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign has taken on a life of its own.
The mostly female collection of activists who continue to rally around the cause of a decommissioned White House bid can’t exactly be described as an organized movement. There are the wealthy donors who work within official party channels and talk calmly about reforming the party’s nominating process or protecting against gender bias in future elections. Their level of hostility toward the Obama campaign varies. And then there are the outright rejectionists: the raucous bloggers and founders of groups like PUMA (Party Unity My Ass) who plan to disrupt the convention and have declared all-out war against Mr. Obama and his supporters, who they accuse of making death threats and leaving dead bunny rabbits on doorsteps in the middle of the night.
What they share, without exception, is a profound disappointment at the way the primary turned out, and a revulsion at the way they perceive Mrs. Clinton to have been treated.
That has been enough to establish a de facto echo chamber that has proven to be a headache for Mr. Obama as his campaign tries to project Democratic unity ahead of the convention during the last week of August.
“There’s an unbelievable camaraderie and yet in some cases we have nothing in common,” said Diane Mantouvalos, a leader in the JustSayNoDeal anti-Obama coalition, who plans to attend the Denver convention and work in a loft rented out for pro-Hillary bloggers from around the country. “There is an element of venting, but also, if you thought you were alone, you were wrong.”
The best-established group of Clinton ’08 loyalists consists of influential Democratic bundlers like Ms. de Rothschild, Jill Iscol and Susie Tompkins Buell.
Recently, several of them met privately with Senator Chuck Schumer, who runs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. According to a number of attendees and sources with direct knowledge of the meeting, their purpose was to lobby Mr. Schumer about introducing a new code of conduct for Democratic candidates that would officially declare gender bias as offensive as racism, and to encourage him to make it the official position of the party not to deal with media outlets perceived to be trafficking in misogyny.
“It was productive,” said one attendee.
(Mr. Schumer’s office said the senator was traveling abroad and could not be reached for comment.)
Ms. Buell plans to attend the convention only on Aug. 26, and will attend with the former first lady a discussion about gender bias held by the political action committee Women Count, before Mrs. Clinton delivers her prime-time speech. She says she will vote for Mr. Obama, but instead of raising money for him, she will concentrate on Congressional races this cycle.
“We can’t let this happen again,” she said.
Ms. Iscol, too, has arrived at compromise somewhere short of full support for the nominee.
She considers herself a devoted friend to Mrs. Clinton, whom she first met at her Vineyard home in 1997, and for whom she raised hundreds of thousands of dollars during her presidential campaign. She said she likes Mr. Obama, whom she first met at a dinner on the Vineyard in 2004, and described herself as committed to party unity. She plans to vote for Mr. Obama—he called her after the primaries to ask for her support—but she said she is waiting to see if Mrs. Clinton is put on the ticket before she decides whether to raise money for Mr. Obama.
Ms. de Rothschild, on the other hand, doesn’t see herself even voting for Mr. Obama.
She said the Obama campaign has addressed her demands to give Mrs. Clinton a prime-time platform during the convention and adopt some of her language into the party platform, but she still has grievances. She thinks the bitter primary exposed the nominating process’ system of caucuses and proportionally weighted delegates as fundamentally undemocratic, and she wants Mr. Obama and Mr. Dean to address the fact that it needs to be fixed. And she has a problem with the way the Clintons were treated.
“If this party turns its back on Bill Clinton, it’s not a party that deserves our loyalty,” she said.
She also said she still has serious reservations about Mr. Obama’s principles and experience and thinks the questions raised during the primaries about his unsavory associations with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Tony Rezko remain appropriate issues.
“That’s not Swift-boating,” she said.
In that regard, at least, Ms. de Rothschild has something in common with the anti-Obama bloggers and organizers, about 60 of whom gathered at the Country Inn hotel near Dulles airport in Washington on Aug. 9 and 10 for a leadership meeting to coordinate strategy for protesting the Democratic convention. (The meeting was closed to the press, organizers said, to avoid infiltration by Obama sympathizers.)
The attendees came from the ranks of the creators of PUMA and dozens of Web sites, including HillaryClintonforum, pumaparty, AlwaysForHillary, the Denver Group—which plans to run anti-Obama commercials during the convention—and a blog radio show called No Quarter (featuring a “Reading Rezko” edition). Many of the sites feature videos of pumas baring their teeth in the wild.
In this parallel universe, Mr. Obama, or NObama, as he is often called, is a misogynistic fraud. The DNC and other Democratic officials were in on it, too, conspiring against Mrs. Clinton to advance their own political agenda.
In one typical video, Howard Dean is juxtaposed with images of Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; Donna Brazile is compared to Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid; and Nancy Pelosi morphs into Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmations.
(Asked for a response, Obama campaign spokesman Nick Shapiro said, “At the Democratic convention, we will ensure that the voices of everyone who participated in this historic process are respected and our party will be fully unified heading into the November election.”)
Long-term, the fringe groups are talking about purging the Democratic Party of Obama supporters or even starting their own third party. Short-term, they are focused on ruining the convention.
“Hi everybody. I hope that the Denver convention will be turned into the American equivalent of Tiananmen Square,” wrote a commenter named “johninca” on a Web site announcing PUMA’s 2008 “convention” in Washington.
In an interview, Darragh Murphy, the founder of PUMAPac, called the meeting crucial to counteract Mr. Obama’s aggressive and prolific online supporters.
“I started saying this was more than my candidate versus your candidate,” she said. “We need to become a movement, too.”
Murphy filed papers with the F.C.C. to start PUMAPac on June 3 and claims it has since grown to 10,000 members and has raised $50,000. The PAC is funding a loft for bloggers in Denver, organizing delegate outreach and financing an anti-Obama movie, The Audacity of Democracy.
Ms. Murphy, a mother of three who lives outside Boston, believes that the only way to save the Democratic Party at this point is to destroy it. Mr. Obama must lose, and his supporters must be purged.
She said that Obama supporters have harassed her and her followers by banging on their windows with pots and pans in the middle of the night, making phone threats and leaving dead rabbits on their doorsteps.
“If this guy wins, that style of campaigning will become the de facto method,” said Ms. Murphy.
(On mybarackobama.com, one blogger accused Ms. Murphy, who voted for Mr. McCain in the 2000 Massachusetts primary, of being a McCain plant and called her a “Republican Astro-Turfer.” She denies being a plant.)
At the D.C. meeting with Ms. Murphy was Will Bower, the founder of PUMA08. A former administrator of Hillary Clinton’s Facebook group, “Hillary Clinton for President; One Million Strong,” he participated in the conference call on the night Mrs. Clinton suspended her campaign. That original 5 p.m. strategy call has now become a weekly event dubbed the “puma prowl,” during which rank and file members get their marching orders about what DNC switchboard to paralyze by mass-calling or which superdelegates to bombard with e-mail.
Superdelegates, of course, became irrelevant to the national political discourse the day Mrs. Clinton dropped out of the race. But for the most committed Clinton loyalists, they are still seen as the key to victory. And no one is as focused on lobbying them as Ricki Lieberman.
A former Hillraiser—a Clinton bundler who has raised at least $100,000—Ms. Lieberman, 61, drafts her “Electability Watch” newsletter every night in a cavernous apartment on Manhattan’s West End Avenue, which has played host to Governor David Paterson among other New York officials.
Part pep talk, part clip job, part poll update and part superdelegate call list, the “EW,” as it is known, is blasted out to hundreds of the Clinton supporters nightly. An Aug. 6 edition began, “This evening at a ‘thank you, Hillraisers’ event, Senator Clinton told me how honored she is by the people who are working to have her name put into nomination and appreciative of those signing the petition.”
On Aug. 7, Ms. Lieberman sat in a dining room decorated with menorahs and family photos, shooing her cat away from a bowl of cherries in the middle of the table. She wore a blue shirt with large orange beads and explained how she provides each recipient with the names and numbers of 18 superdelegates (symbolizing, she said, the 18 million voters who supported Mrs. Clinton in the primaries).
“It takes me an enormous amount of time,” she said.
Ms. Lieberman, a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat who has served as campaign treasurer for Representative Jerry Nadler, thinks she is helping the party by vetting Mr. Obama. She dismissed Mrs. Clinton’s calls for her followers to get behind Mr. Obama as a “mixed message” and lit up when the subject of a video of Mrs. Clinton speaking at a San Francisco fund-raiser came up.
In the video, Mrs. Clinton appeared to agree with the suggestion that her name be included on a roll call in Denver, to help with the process of emotional “catharsis” for her followers. Like many of the diehard Clinton loyalists fighting to get Mrs. Clinton’s name onto the roll call during the nomination, Ms. Lieberman took the senator’s remarks as a green light to continue.
“I really believe she will be the nominee—I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t,” said Ms. Lieberman, who met Mr. Obama once on the campaign trail. (“He didn’t pay a bit of attention to me,” she said. “He’s tall and looked around for someone more important.”)
When asked if anything, barring Mrs. Clinton’s nomination, would make her happy at the convention, she said, “I’m not sure there’s a happy ending.”
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