On a breezy Thursday evening in New York City, under the giant metal globe at Columbus Circle, several disgruntled Hillary-ites were not going quietly into the night. “A vote for McCain is a vote for Hillary,” explained Mary Houston, a lifetime Democrat who’s now voting for McCain. “I firmly believe that. Look, if McCain wins, he already said he’s not going to run for a second term, so Hillary can run in 2012. If Obama wins, he’ll run again, and by that point, it’ll be too late for her. So I’m voting for Hillary by voting for McCain.”
Houston was there for a “Truth About Obama” Meetup (remember Meetups?), a gathering of embittered Hillary supporters organized by a national grassroots splitter group called the Real Democrats, though no one in attendance would be watching Obama’s speech that night. The media has made much political hay out of whether disappointed Hillary supporters will join her vanquisher, Barack Obama, in November. Yes, Gallup says 18 percent of them have negative feelings towards Obama, and, yes, a recent CNN poll found that 27 percent of them are so disappointed with Hillary’s loss that they will back McCain, something the McCain camp decided to bank on by nominating Sarah Palin to be his running mate. But then another poll suggested that the switch has less to do with Clinton than with voters’ concerns over Obama’s qualifications; and then our very own Gabe Pressman, not having seen any New York delegates defect at the Democratic National Convention, suggested that the defectors don’t even exist.
Pressman may be right, but not for the reasons he thinks. Hillary die-hards may not exist because they’ve enthusiastically forded the river to join the McCain camp. These faithful claimed to have seen right through Hillary’s Tuesday night speech (“I don’t believe a word she said,” said event organizer Raj Rajagopalan) and had become so pro-Hillary and so anti-Obama that the result was a little ideologically bewildering. Not only would these registered Democrats vote for McCain over Obama, they claimed they would even prefer tovote for George W. Bush.
“I feel like I should call the White House and apologize,” said Houston.
“They’re both devils,” said Rajagopalan, “but at least Bush sticks to what he says.” (For the record, if the match-up were between Nixon and Obama, Rajagopalan would stay home.)
The Hillary supporters were soon joined by a smattering of right-wingers. Rich Resnick, a libertarian who voted for Ron Paul and works as a toxic-tort claims manager at an insurance company, stood holding a McCain sign (upside down) and talked about how much he was enjoying Swiftboater Jerome Corsi’s book, The Obama Nation, which Hendrik Hertzberg described as “the Big Lie” written by “a crackpot, a boor and a bigot.”
“Oh, I think you’ll really like that book,” said Rajagopalan. He waved to the approaching Rich Vargas and his eight-year-old daughter, who was diligently attending to a medusa-like Mr. Softee cone.
“Because of Barack Obama’s feeble response to what happened in Georgia,” Vargas, a political independent, said when asked why he was supporting John McCain. “I’m Hungarian, okay? I know all about Russian aggression. No more Russian bullying.” His daughter, however, had been gunning for Hillary all along. When asked for comment, she crossed her eyes and drove her tongue into her ice cream. Her father filled in for her: “It’s because she’s a girl.”
While the gathered were eagerly discussing McCain’s Veepstakes, Lakshmi, a software developer who works with Rajagopalan, headed off toward Central Park to join Nairoby Otero, who radioed back to say that the targets there were “more relaxed” and thus easier to pick off. On the way, Lakshmi, a Hillary supporter unmoored by her June concession, explained how she was swayed by John McCain’s performance at Saddleback.
“When the minister asked him, ‘when does a person get human rights?’ he said ‘at the moment of conception,’ but Obama said ‘when I get my paycheck,’” Lakshmi said, referring to the infamous when-does-life-begin split on abortion between McCain (“at the moment of conception”) and Obama, who said the question was “above my pay grade.” “I mean, are you telling me that I have to make money before I have human rights? I can’t vote for someone like that!”
She stopped to hand a flier to a couple admiring Trump Tower. In town from Maine, the Bostons were still undecided.
At the Park entrance, Lakshmi met Otero and her roommate, Nathan.
“We’ve been targeting minorities,” Otero said. “I’ve been picking off the Hispanics and Nathan, well, Nathan is going after his Asians.” She went back to headquarters. Without her, Lakshmi and Nathan seemed lost. “Do you want a free flyer?” Nathan asked, sheepishly thrusting a folded flyer at a panting jogger. “It’s free!”
Discouraged, they wandered away and met Rich Resnick, who had materialized with his McCain sign at the park’s entrance. He quickly snagged a delighted McCain supporter - “it’s a lonely existence, being a Republican in New York,” he said. Nearby, Bill Stern, a quiet (Republican) man in a purple polo and clip-on sunglasses was distributing fliers with silent determination. One woman tore hers up. Another snorted: “Ugh, McCain is, like, a thousand years old.” But soon, Stern was running to get some more orange “Two Faces of Obama” fliers from Lakshmi, who hadn’t managed to hand many out. She had, however, found a bewildered young independent in need of comfort. “I’m in the same shoe as you are,” she crooned.
By the time we got back to the Columbus Circle headquarters, Raj, Mary, and Lakshmi were the only Hillary kamikazes left. Rich Vargas’s daughter was watching a Hannah Montana DVD and agitating for a Big Mac while Rich was talking to a couple new arrivals, both McCain supporters. Nairoby Otero had gone home. An old lady was shuffling around with a McCain sign, brandishing it at anyone who walked past. Two professional-looking women with McCain bumper stickers on their bloused backs were having an animated discussion about the wisdom of being pro-life. The stacks of anti-Obama fliers languished under a bush. Only the navy blue and yellow of the McCain posters were visible in the creeping summer darkness.Julia Ioffe is a freelance writer based in New York City.