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Region's big Clinton backers get behind Obama

Unity was the buzzword among Democrats yesterday, and no more so than in Pennsylvania, where almost all the big power brokers - and many of the smaller ones - had until now thrown their support behind Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.


was the buzzword among Democrats yesterday, and no more so than in Pennsylvania, where almost all the big power brokers - and many of the smaller ones - had until now thrown their support behind Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But with Sen. Barack Obama the presumptive Democratic nominee, top state Democrats yesterday were left figuring out how to best position the Illinois lawmaker for victory in their swing state, which carries 21 electoral votes.

"Any time, any place, anywhere under any set of circumstances that I can be helpful, that's where I'm going to be," Mayor Nutter said yesterday. "I'll campaign with him here in Philly or in the suburbs or anywhere else they would like."

"I'm a Democrat," he added. "I'm supporting the Democratic nominee."

That sentiment was echoed in most Democratic circles yesterday, including in New Jersey, where key leaders also had lined up for Clinton in the primary.

"We have to get together and make sure that our differences don't stand in the way of bringing change to Washington," said Gov. Corzine, a Clinton supporter.

In Pennsylvania, Democrats recognize that Obama, who lost resoundingly to Clinton in the April 22 primary, will need all the political, strategic and financial backing of the state Democratic Party - and particularly that of Gov. Rendell.

Rendell was instrumental in helping Clinton win the state. During her campaign, he was much more than just a surrogate and cheerleader for her; he embraced some of the functions of campaign adviser and strategist, often setting her schedule and picking her campaign spots.

Rendell has said all along that he would throw his support behind the eventual nominee.

And yesterday, he and others said they expected key Democrats would line up behind Obama and campaign just as hard for him in the next five months as they had for Clinton.

Obama's real challenge, they said, will be to appeal to two very different constituencies that he lost to Clinton in April: working-class voters in the southwestern part of the state, and suburban Philadelphia residents who voted for Clinton in greater numbers than expected.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, one of the few area Democrats who supported Obama in the primary, said he had "no doubt" that Democrats - both voters and party officials - would rally behind Obama.

"At the end of the day, the choice voters have is not between two very strong competitors like Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama. It's now a choice between a Republican and a Democrat that will shape the future of this country," Casey said.

In New Jersey, top Democrats said they, too, believed their state would come through for Obama, even though he lost there Feb. 5.

"What we have to do is get everyone working for the same objective, and I think that will happen," Corzine said. "I know that is what Sen. Clinton wants to see happen. That is what most Democrats want to see happen, no matter how they sorted it out in the primaries."

Senate President Richard J. Codey (D., Essex), an Obama supporter, said he expected politically involved Democrats in the state to announce their support for Obama shortly - although he was less sure about rank-and-file voters.

"Obama's problem is not getting the political elite to support him," said G. Terry Madonna, a political analyst and pollster at Franklin and Marshall College. "It's getting the blue-collar workers to support him. He did pitifully with those voters" in Pennsylvania.

A few prominent Democrats yesterday suggested that the only way for Obama to bridge the gap and snag the voters who favored Clinton - and may turn to Republican Sen. John McCain in the fall - was to tap her for vice president.

For the first time this week, Clinton made clear that she would be open to the possibility of the No. 2 spot on the ballot.

"The two of them are the yin and yang of the Democratic Party," Philadelphia fund-raiser Mark Aronchick said. "The surest way to win in Pennsylvania is if they are both on the ticket together."

Clinton fund-raiser Alan Kessler, a Philadelphia lawyer, put it this way: "There are some very angry Hillary Clinton supporters and voters, and they're angry over the perception of the way she was handled, whether through the media or the Obama campaign."

And it's not just voters, Kessler said. It's fund-raisers and donors, too.

"I won't name names," he said, "but I have had a number of people tell me they will not write a check to him."

If Clinton is not on the ticket - and particularly if she is not even asked - "I don't know how much some of our major fund-raising people will raise, and how hard they will work," Kessler said.

"The best way to unite the party nationally and in the state of Pennsylvania is by having her on the ticket," he said.