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Preston on Politics: PUMAs stalking Obama

  • Story Highlights
  • Some disgruntled Democrats say party rigged primaries for Sen. Barack Obama
  • Despite Sen. Hillary Clinton's urging, not all of her followers are backing Obama
  • Some PUMAs say they will subvert Obama's nomination
  • Others say they will vote for Republican opponent Sen. John McCain
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By Mark Preston
CNN Political Editor
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Party Unity My A--!

Not all of Sen. Hillary Clinton's supporters have fallen in line behind Sen. Barack Obama.

Not all of Sen. Hillary Clinton's supporters have fallen in line behind Sen. Barack Obama.

Not exactly the slogan you want heading into your presidential nominating convention, but one that is being repeated online and in neighborhood bars by a group of disenchanted Democrats, who have dubbed themselves PUMAs.

Why are they angry? It all depends on whom you ask.

Some of the PUMAs accuse Democratic leaders of rigging the primaries to favor Sen. Barack Obama, while others feel that he is not qualified to be the party nominee, let alone competent enough to lead the country.

Kim Mann said she thinks that Obama is too liberal. Webster Tarpley said the senator from Illinois is too conservative. But Mann, a 52-year-old project manager from Manassas, Virginia, and Tarpley, a self-described 62-year-old "controversial author," agree on one thing: Neither wants Obama to be the Democratic nominee. Video Watch why some Democrats oppose Obama's nomination »

Even though Sen. Hillary Clinton conceded the Democratic presidential nomination to Obama in early June and urged all of her supporters to vote for him, not all of her backers heeded the call. Hence, the beginning of the PUMA movement.

"What we are really organizing about is to reinitiate Hillary back into the presidential race," Mann said during a recent interview at a Washington bar, where she met with fellow PUMAs for kinship and to strategize about how to make Clinton the Democratic nominee.

Will Bower, the 36-year-old head of the PUMA pack, and his like-minded Democrats are angry because they charge that the Democratic National Committee unfairly imposed sanctions on Michigan and Florida after both states violated party rules by holding primary contests before February 5. Clinton won both primaries -- Obama's name was not even on the Michigan ballot -- and had those states counted at the beginning, well, who knows what would have happened.

"I have never voted for anything but a Democrat, and I feel that there has been an internal coup, and they are putting forward a candidate that does not represent the will of the Democratic Party," Bower said.

To be fair, the DNC did go through a lengthy review process of the primary calendar and warned every state that only four -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- would be allowed to hold primaries before Super Tuesday. And if you ask the Obama campaign, it's confident that the senator is up to the job. Video Watch more from the campaign trail »

But that hasn't stopped Bower, a Washington resident who recently quit his job to oversee the PUMA pack, and others from trying to subvert Obama's likely nomination to make room for Clinton.

"We have got a convention coming up and although everyone calls him the nominee, he is the presumed nominee," Bower said. "So we need to make sure Hillary gets her name in nomination and those delegates get a chance to vote, because I think there are a lot of delegates who will change their mind by the end of August and realize that Hillary Clinton is the truer Democrat."

Clinton, for her part, is not supporting this effort, and is committed to helping Obama defeat Sen. John McCain in November, a spokesman said.

"She has been very crystal clear that she supports Sen. Obama and wants every Democrat and every one of her supporters to get behind him," said Mo Elleithee, Clinton's spokesman. "She has said repeatedly the stakes are so high and anyone that has voted for her has more in common with Sen. Obama than Sen. McCain."

Bower just shrugs off Clinton's support of Obama.

"Hillary Clinton is a voter, and we are voters and we love her and we will do most of what she asks us to do," Bower said. "But at the end of the day we make our own decisions when we go into the polling booth."

He estimates that there are 250 PUMA-related Web sites and 2.5 million PUMAs online. I am not sure there is metric to measure their enthusiasm, but a preliminary test will come next month when the group holds a conference in Washington to plan for Denver -- the site of the 2008 Democratic National Convention. How many PUMAs will show up? What will be the group's rallying cry?

Then the real test will be at the end of August when Democrats convene in the Colorado capital to make Obama the party's official presidential nominee. But will that be too late? PUMAs don't think so.

Should the Obama campaign be worried about the PUMAs? A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll showed that more than four in 10 Democrats still preferred Clinton as the nominee. But Obama is leading McCain in early general election polls. And as Clinton continues to vocalize her support for Obama, it is probably safe to say that more Clinton backers will likely fall in line behind him.

From donors to volunteers, the Obama campaign said that Clinton's supporters have already expressed support for the senator from Illinois.

"Democrats across the country understand how urgently we need change, not four more years of failed Bush policies -- and we've been very pleased that so many who supported Sen. Clinton in the primary have taken active roles in the Obama campaign, organizing, raising money and most importantly, talking to their friends and neighbors about the clear choice in this election," Obama spokesman Nick Shapiro said.

If Clinton thinks Obama is the best candidate and the Democratic establishment is backing him, then why else would these PUMAs dislike him so much?

"I have a big concern that we don't actually know what his policies are because you know throughout the primary he had his policies that he would speak about, and since he clinched the nomination on June 3, he's really backtracked," said Nili Navot, 28, an education worker from New York who came to Washington for the PUMA happy hour at the bar. "And you know he has really gone back on a lot of things from public financing to supporting the FISA bill."

If PUMAs are unsuccessful in preventing Obama from getting the nomination, what will they do?

Bower and Mann said they would cross party lines and vote for McCain; Navot noted she might write in Clinton's name or not vote at all. Tarpley said he would turn his gaze towards Green Party nominee Cynthia McKinney, Libertarian Party nominee Bob Barr or independent candidate Ralph Nader.


Tarpley said a McCain victory might be the best result if Obama is the Democratic nominee. It would allow the party an opportunity to reflect and perhaps "radicalize it in a New Deal direction."

"I would say McCain is on track to be a tired old lame duck as soon as he gets into office, and he will face a very hostile Congress," said Tarpley, noting that Democrats are projected to maintain majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate. "I think what you will have is gridlock, and I would say at this point gridlock is about the best you can do."

All About Barack ObamaHillary ClintonDemocratic Party

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