The Clintons are infamous for holding a grudge, and with Hillary looking like a prohibitive front-runner for the party's presidential nomination in 2016, prominent Democrats who supported Barack Obama in 2008 are racing to settle their debts now and make their support for Clinton known early.
And it's not just run-of-the-mill Obama supporters, but the ones whose support for the young insurgent in 2008 felt like major betrayals to the Clintons. In their book HRC, journalists Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes detail how one of the last acts of the defeated Clinton campaign was to finalize a "hit list" of Democrats who were disloyal, with the degree of treachery ranked from one to seven.
And there's an almost perfectly inverse correlation between the severity of the blow dealt to Clinton in 2008 and the quickness and eagerness of Democratic VIPs to back her now—the worse the knock then, the bigger and earlier the boost now. Some started more than two years before the Iowa caucuses are held in early 2016.
To be fair, much of this is likely genuine, as Clinton has much more experience today than she did in the middle of 2006, and she is in a stronger position politically. One longtime Clinton friend, who broke with the couple and is now returning to the fold, joked that he should start the "People Formerly Mad at Hillary Club." But much of it may be driven by a desire to avoid remaining an enemy to someone who could soon occupy the White House.
Here are some of the Clinton betrayers who are now behind Clinton 2016:
- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid—CRIME: Secretly advising Obama to run for president against Clinton in 2006, according to journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin in their book Game Change. PENANCE: While Reid hasn't formally endorsed Clinton, he told the PBS Newshour in December that if elected president, she'd "handle things probably even better" than her husband. In November, he said, "Hillary Clinton may have a bigger fan than Harry Reid; I just don't know who it would be."
- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi—CRIME: Secretly supporting Obama, earning a rebuke from Clinton donors. PENANCE: Pelosi hasn't endorsed either, but she told USA Today that if Clinton runs, "she would win" and that "she'd be the best-prepared person to enter the White House in decades, with all due respect to her husband, present company, and other presidents."
- Sen. Chuck Schumer—CRIME: Secretly urging Obama to run, despite being from the same state as Clinton, per Game Change. PENANCE: Endorsing Clinton in November, saying 2016 is her time.
- Sen. Claire McCaskill—CRIME: McCaskill became particularly loathed in Clintonland for publicly supporting Obama early and saying of Bill Clinton, "I think he's been a great leader but I don't want my daughter near him." PENANCE: Becoming the first sitting member of Congress to endorse Ready for Hillary, the pro-Clinton super PAC, in June 2013 and helping it raise money.
- Sen. Tim Kaine—CRIME: Giving Obama a key boost as the first governor outside of his home state to endorse him. PENANCE: Writing an op-ed and giving a speech in the early primary state of South Carolina to announce that he'll be one of the first senators to endorse Ready for Hillary.
- Kennedy Family—CRIME: The late Sen. Edward Kennedy's defection to Obama was a particularly painful blow to the Clintons, who have a long relationship with the distinguished family. PENANCE: Caroline Kennedy, now the U.S. ambassador to Japan, made a big splash when she endorsed Clinton in April.
- Rep. John Lewis—CRIME: The civil-rights icon switched his support from Clinton to Obama in 2008, which especially stung Bill. PENANCE: Lewis paid a visit to a Costco in Northern Virginia this month where Clinton was signing books to urge her to run.
- Sen. Dick Durbin—CRIME: The No. 2 Senate Democrat backed Obama over Clinton. PENANCE: Hosting a Ready for Hillary fundraiser and endorsing the group.
- Sen. Barbara Boxer—CRIME: Secretly urging Obama to run. PENANCE: Privately urging Clinton to run. Boxer organized a letter, later made public, signed by all 16 Democratic women in the Senate urging Clinton to run in 2016. She's also helping Ready for Hillary.
- Rep. Jim Moran—CRIME: Privately promising he'd support Hillary, only to recant and support Obama. Also, saying he'd like to punch Bill Clinton in the nose. PENANCE: The retiring congressman says he's now a strong supporter of the Clintons and that "they have forgiven me far faster than I would have."
- Rep. Chris Van Hollen—CRIME: The former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee told MSNBC in January that he wasn't sure why he earned a seven rating on the hit list. PENANCE: He continued, "I'm a huge supporter of Hillary Clinton.… I've indicated that I would be a supporter of Hillary Clinton if she runs."
- Rep. Robert Andrews—CRIME: Andrews said in 2008 that Clinton's campaign has "racial overtones that indeed disturb me." PENANCE: Andrews, who recently retired, told The Hill, "I will fully and enthusiastically support Secretary Clinton if, as I hope, she is a candidate for president in 2016."
- Hollywood—CRIME: Many of Los Angeles's largest Democratic donors went in for Obama early, neutralizing one of Clinton's biggest advantage over the relatively unknown senator. PENANCE: Super donor Jeffrey Katzenberg personally assured Clinton he'd support her, if she runs. David Geffen, another key Obama booster, is also on board, as are a Who's Who of the town's donors.
The list goes on, from local county party chairmen and activists in New Hampshire and Iowa to backbench congressmen, donors, political strategists, and even former presidents to whom Clinton is not married.
In fact, the support from the party's bold names is so close to universal that it would be difficult for a Barack Obama to find any traction among Democratic leadership.
This article appears in the June 24, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.