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Monday, August 11, 2008

Clinton T-Shirts Are Off, Obama’s On


Isaac Baker, who was Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s communications director in Ohio, has stashed away the Hillary T-shirts and the campaign’s taunting “Meet Me in Ohio” sign. Mr. Baker did end up meeting Senator Barack Obama in the Buckeye State as the sign urged, but not in quite the way he expected. This time it is as part of the Obama campaign.

“The mementos stay at home,” said Mr. Baker, now the Ohio communications director for Mr. Obama. “I am on board with Senator Obama’s campaign, and I am proud to be working here.”

Two months after Mrs. Clinton suspended her campaign, a small group of staff members have moved over to that of their one-time rival, Mr. Obama, the presumed Democratic nominee. In making the move, many have had to place both their physical (Hillary buttons) and emotional (more complicated) keepsakes in storage to pursue a larger goal of electing a Democratic president.

The shift from one campaign to another began almost as soon as Mrs. Clinton conceded the nomination on June 7 and freed her supporters and staff members not only to support Mr. Obama but to join the opposing team.

So far, about 20 people have made the transition, the best known of whom is Patti Solis Doyle, a former Clinton campaign manager, who has been given the task of leading and organizing the staff for the vice-presidential nominee, whoever that might be.

More are likely to make the shift, as the Obama campaign is still filling positions, though there are fewer than 90 days left in the campaign.

Some people, like Mr. Baker, took the move in stride.

“It’s never easy to lose, especially when you poured so much of your time and effort into a campaign like that,” Mr. Baker said, speaking from his office in the Obama campaign’s state headquarters in Columbus, a big bullpen of a room in a converted basement gymnasium. “But once we had a nominee, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to go work for Barack Obama, because the issues at stake in this election are too big.”

Half a dozen of those who made the shift are in high-level positions in Chicago; most of the rest are working in the states as field, communications, political and advance staff members.

Some were ready right away to make the move. Others have still not recovered from their investment in a ferocious campaign that went through the final primaries and was competitive every step of the way.

“After such a hard-fought and tortuous contest, it’s only natural for hard feelings to linger for some,” said Philippe Reines, a fierce Clinton loyalist who has worked for her since 2002. He remains a senior adviser to Mrs. Clinton but has had discussions with fellow campaign staff members about their moving to Mr. Obama’s campaign. “Maybe some of her primary opponents only slightly irked you, maybe you really couldn’t stand others. There’s a lot in between, and over time it dissipates.”

“So people now fall into two groups,” Mr. Reines added. “One says, ‘I could never work for anyone else,’ and the other says, ‘I’d like to work for him, but is it O.K.?’ ”

In an interview, Ms. Solis Doyle, who was a close confidante of Mrs. Clinton, said she cried watching Mrs. Clinton’s televised concession. But Ms. Solis Doyle, who is working at the Obama campaign headquarters in her hometown, Chicago, with many longtime political allies, said she was comfortable with the move.

“I don’t feel disloyalty to Hillary by doing this,” she said in a telephone interview. “The best way to fight for what Hillary wants and what I want for my children is to work tirelessly for Barack Obama.”

She added: “That Saturday of her concession speech was the toughest, but that next day I said to my daughter, ‘Hillary gave it her best shot, she worked really hard, and now we need to support Barack Obama.’ And now she believes, because Hillary didn’t win, that she could be the first woman president, which I think is great.”

Others, though, said there have been jitters and even embarrassment over the switch.

“It’s weird for me, personally, to tell people that I’m crossing over,” said one Clinton staff member, who requested anonymity to speak more candidly, “that I’m going over to the enemy, because that’s what it feels like.”

She said she also worried that the move might come back to haunt her professionally. “There’s some sense of, am I burning bridges by going over to Obama?” said the staff member, who did advance work for the campaign. “Because who knows how they really feel about this, but outwardly, they’re encouraging everyone to go to Obama.”

It has not helped that there is lingering resentment between the campaigns from the drawn-out contest. There are concerns about Mrs. Clinton’s future role, that she has most likely been discounted as a vice-presidential choice and that Mr. Obama has not done enough to help relieve her $12 million campaign debt.

“Especially if you’re young, this is your first presidential, and you’re reading stories about supposed lists and the godfather rigmarole about the price of disloyalty in this business, you’re going to wonder if that will affect you,” Mr. Reines said. “And my answer is always, ‘Of course it’s O.K. to work for him. It’s more than O.K. She wants him to win and wants everyone to help.’ ”

Some staff members see a stark dividing line between the primaries and the general election that helps them distinguish between their old and new jobs. Jonathan Swain, who was Mrs. Clinton’s communications director in Indiana and is now doing the same job for the Obama campaign, said that “especially during the primary here, it was about making the case for her as a candidate. It was never, in my mind, about being against Barack Obama.”

After the primaries were over, the Obama campaign contacted people in Indiana politics looking for suggestions to fill the state’s communications post, and Mr. Swain’s name came up. When they called him on his cellphone less than two weeks later, he was back in Washington at his old job as Senator Evan Bayh’s press secretary. He remembers telling them that if they went back and looked at everything he had said, they would not find anything negative about Mr. Obama that could hurt him down the road.

The Obama campaign has treaded carefully in reaching out to Mrs. Clinton’s staff — not just to pick those they think can be most helpful to their campaign but also to address the delicacy of the situation. “We are reaching out and signing up new Clinton supporters and volunteers every day, and we welcome all of them who are looking to join in the future,” Nick Shapiro, an Obama spokesman, said in an e-mail statement. Personal relationships between the two campaigns, which often existed, helped ease the transition.

Neera Tanden, the policy director for the Clinton campaign who is now handling domestic policy for Mr. Obama, said she had received a call from David Axelrod, the campaign’s chief strategist, the day after Mrs. Clinton ended her bid. He told her that Mrs. Clinton’s speech had been magnificent, and then the two, who have been friends since 1999, spent some time catching up on each other’s families. After her initial talks with the campaign, she spoke directly with Mrs. Clinton, who, she said, “definitely encouraged me to take the job.”

Sarah Hurwitz, Mrs. Clinton’s chief speechwriter, said she had received an e-mail message from Mr. Obama’s head speechwriter two hours after Mrs. Clinton’s concession, complimenting her on a good speech and adding, “I’m going to call you.”

“It was clear he wanted to get the ball rolling as soon as possible, but he also knew he should give me a few days,” she said. When he called her three days later, it was to ask if she would consider joining his writing shop. She is now a senior speechwriter for the Obama campaign.

“Senator Obama called me himself just to welcome me,” she said.

The former Clinton staff members are starting to observe the differences between the two campaigns. Mr. Swain noticed Mr. Obama’s “very extensive and very strong field operation” — an organization he had to compete against in the primaries.

And, said Dana Singiser, who was director of women’s outreach for the Clinton campaign and arrived in Chicago on July 14 to serve as senior adviser to Mr. Obama, laughing, “His offices here in Chicago are a lot nicer than ours were in Ballston, Va.”

They are also starting to see changes in themselves. The former Clinton staff member who was worried about telling her friends and co-workers that she had jumped to the Obama campaign received an e-mail message from a fellow Clinton campaigner early last month. The note, she said, read in part, “This is the first day that I can actually say, truly, I want Barack Obama to win, without my fingers crossed.”

“It’s a gradual process,” she said. “We’re all Democrats at heart.”

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