Saturday, Aug. 9, 2008 | 2 a.m.
In a visit to a state that treated her well this year, Sen. Hillary Clinton allayed fears Friday about her commitment to working for the election of the Democratic presidential nominee, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.
She urged supporters who filled the Green Valley High School gymnasium in Henderson to volunteer for Obama and support him in November. The junior senator from New York also attacked the Republican presidential nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, for not supporting recently stalled equal pay legislation for working women, and for not backing an expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Such appearances by Clinton are important to the party: Analysts think Obama will need to win over Clinton supporters, especially working class and older women. With her domestic policy attacks on McCain, Clinton did her best to help Obama on that score.
Rick Gorka, a McCain spokesman, said in a statement: “We welcome Senator Clinton back to Nevada where she ran a spirited campaign against Senator Obama based on his inexperience, and we plan to defeat Obama in Nevada again on November 4th with the same message that Obama is not ready to lead.”
Clinton tried to smooth over the 18-month conflict with Obama.
“Anyone who voted for me or caucused for me,” Clinton said, interrupted by rousing applause, “has so much more in common with Barack Obama than John McCain.”
She continued: “I urge you to remember who we were fighting for in my campaign.” She related stories about single mothers, Iraq war veterans and others in need of government help.
Interviews with Clinton’s Nevada supporters seemed to suggest they held out dim hope that she would contest Obama’s nomination at the convention. Most were also willing to support Obama — some only if instructed by Clinton, however.
Eunice Ferreira, a card dealer at Mandalay Bay who volunteered for the campaign during the caucus, said, “I want her to come back, but I don’t know what chance she has.”
Would she vote for Obama? “Yes. But only to support what (Clinton) says.”
Her friend Sally Tramoni, a card dealer at the Bellagio, was more pragmatic. She was a Clinton precinct captain, devoting countless hours to the campaign before the Nevada vote. When it was all over, she said, “I needed to rest.” This week, Tramoni started volunteering for the Obama campaign.
“I was with her every step of the way, but we need to get a Democrat in the White House,” she said. “You have to accept the reality and do your part. Anything I don’t do, I’ll feel sorry for it later.”
Retiree Bonnie Wirtanen caucused for Clinton and brought her 11-year-old granddaughter, Heather Pelley, to Friday’s rally. She said she hoped Obama would pick Clinton as his running mate, but added that she would vote for him regardless.
“She’s very intelligent, capable, and her husband is a great man,” Wirtanen said.
Mention of Clinton’s husband, the former president, triggered big applause during her speech when she noted that Democrats have won only three of the past 10 presidential elections, two by “somebody I know very well.”
Abbe Feigenberg, who moved to Nevada from California just before the caucus but didn’t participate, said she has warmed to Obama since Clinton’s exit from the campaign. She and her partner were among the throng of supporters who crowded around Clinton after the rally, cameras raised.
Feigenberg, wearing a Hillary T-shirt, said she hopes Clinton will be the vice-presidential nominee but has resigned herself to its unlikelihood. “Obama has to decide what’s best for his ticket,” she said.
Still, some Clinton supporters are reluctant to cross over to Obama.
“It’s not automatic,” Linda Sanders said. “Just because we’re Democrats doesn’t mean we’re voting for Obama. Eighteen million people voted for Hillary. And we haven’t heard anything from the Obama camp.”
She and her husband, Mark, caucused for Clinton in January and instructed their two daughters — Christina, 12, and Jordan, 6 — to demonstrate the family’s caucus-day chant for a reporter. (“Don’t mess with the girls for Hill-a-ry!”)
It was clear Clinton’s argument about Obama’s inexperience during the primary — and McCain’s argument now — resonated with the family. “I don’t think it’s a question of moving over (to Obama),” Mark Sanders said. “I think it’s a question of voting. I want to hear from him something other than talk. I want to hear how he will do what he wants to do.”
Outside the high school, Christine Tobian and her husband, Bill Estes, bought Obama and Clinton gear — hats, T-shirts, buttons. The two caucused for Clinton in January and Tobian made phone calls for the campaign. The couple care for Estes’ 95-year-old father and Clinton’s focus on health care won them over.
Tobian, who had never participated in a campaign, said she was “heartbroken” after Clinton lost the nomination battle and hadn’t planned to vote in November — until she heard Clinton’s pleas Friday.
“She really inspired me,” Tobian said. Besides, she said, “I know we’re going to see her running for president again.”