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Clinton Donors Press for Veep Slot

Image has not been found. URL: /wp-content/uploads/2008/11/hill-ob.jpgSen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) appear at a campaign event in New York. (campaign photo)

Jill Iscol was giddy. She was scrunched up in a chair in an office of the apartment she and her husband — the telecom giant Ken Iscol — own on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and had just finished watching herself from earlier that day when she appeared on MSNBC with Andrea Mitchell. It was the afternoon of July 14 and Iscol, the longtime friend of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton — who had worked as a “bundler” during the junior New York senator’s presidential campaign — was feeling better than she had just the day prior.


Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

Only a day before, on “Meet the Press,” Mitchell had brought up an interview Iscol had given to The Los Angeles Times about a conversation she had with Sen. Barack Obama, the substance of which she thought Mitchell had mangled. Iscol had asked to clarify her remarks, and she now was enjoying a small degree of satisfaction. At issue? The word “baggage.”

“I was upset about the spin because the conversation had nothing to do with baggage,” Iscol said. “I said to [Obama], ‘I know as you’re vetting candidates there’s going to be baggage and he said, ‘No, that has nothing to do with that. It has to do with him being a former president.’”

Iscol should expect to find herself in such delicate situations from now on. Before this campaign, Iscol was a private person who could raise a lot of money, who became friends with the first family in the 1990s, after her son Zach and Chelsea Clinton became friends. She was the woman who brought the Clinton family a casserole for dinner after they had moved into their home in suburban New York.

An educator with a PhD from Columbia, Iscol, who’d grown up in Long Island and matriculated as an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh, had raised oodles of money while doing groundwork in states like Texas and Pennsylvania and Indiana over the past year. But now she had become something more: The undeclared leader of influential, well-heeled and still-angry Hillary supporters pressing not only for a Clinton vice presidency but a reformation of the Democratic Party.

Lynn Forester de Rothschild, a fellow Clinton supporter said: “Jill will be effective because she’s completely genuine and wants to get the right results. She’s completely committed to everything the Clintons have stood for their whole life.”

Iscol, while sharing a chocloate bar with this reporter, was focused on how the cause of the Clintons could continue. It could best be manifested, Iscol said, should Obama make the supposed dream ticket happen and invite Clinton aboard his Audacity of Hope Express.

“I think if Obama picks Hillary Clinton it will just be an amazing party,” Iscol said “We will have an African-American man with a woman who was first lady, who’s been a senator and who is one of the most capable people in the world. I mean it could electrify the party and give us the energy as a country that we need. We have enormous problems to solve. We need the best and the brightest. If he picks Evan Bayh or Joe Biden or John Edwards — those people didn’t get the votes. He wants change? Be the person of change and unity.

“It’ll pick him up and he’ll have somebody who will roll her sleeves up and will do whatever needs to be done,” Iscol continued. “That’s who she is. She is unafraid of conflict. She’s the most disciplined, hardworking person I know.”

Iscol said this to Obama last week, when he had called her following her comments in the meticulous July 7 Wall Street Journal story that explored the resistance of Clinton donors to switch their alliances to his side. Obama had called her to address her concerns, and she transformed the conversation into a probe over Clinton’s chances for the second slot. Yes, according to Iscol, Obama said that Clinton was was under consideration, but according to her, he was also worried about trying to run a White House with a former president hovering around the West Wing.

For now that was enough. But just for now. That’s because Iscol had been both an internal and external lightning rod, a symbol of the frustration that many Clinton supporters still feel — despite the appearance the two Democrats made in Unity, N.H., and the joint fund-raisers they held in New York last week.

Now, sitting in her home office–she and her husband spend most of their time at their suburban house in Pound Ridge and summer on Martha’s Vineyard–Iscol was unwilling to back away from the ferocity of such sentiments. Yes, she had spent the majority of Clinton’s July 7 speech at the National Building Museum in Washington crying, but had regathered her resolve and force and was now ready to use it. Earlier this month, 40 people had gathered at the Pound Ridge house in an effort to begin undoing the wrongs they saw executed by the Democratic Party.

“I think the media was very pro-Obama and I think someday they’ll be many dissertations about it and somebody will prove it,” Iscol said. “But we felt, and still feel, that she was treated badly not only by the media but by party leaders. The drumbeat for her to get out–what was that about? Here was Nancy Pelosi saying she should get out by such-and-such a date. What right did she have to say that? Is there a drumbeat to get her out of her leadership position and make the House relevant? No. And she’s leading the drumbeat for Hillary to get out of the primary? It was wrong. It was wrong, and when people saw what was going on they should have said no, this has to stop.”

Nor does Iscol have much use for the caucus system, used predominantly by Iowa but also by 13 other states. Like other Clinton supporters, she has little respect for the open-forum type of vote casting, during which, quite simply, you show up in a room, stand with other people who support your candidate and wait to be counted. In truth, it can be a long, strange, complicated process. For the record, Clinton lost 13 of the 14 caucuses held across the country.

“It’s not democratic,” Iscol said. “People have to be in a room at a certain time of day and it’s open, so you could be in the room and your boss is in there and if your boss votes one way, you’re not going to go vote another way. Plus it hurts people with disabilities, with strange working hours, with children. It’s staged for a certain demographic.”

Needless to say, Iscol is not alone in her remaining anger over what happened. A recent poll conducted by CNN and Opinion Research Corp. found nearly a third of those who supported Clinton during the primaries now say they would rather not cast any vote than vote for Obama.

To make matters more murky, an examination of campaign-finance records conducted for the Journal by the Center for Responsive Politics revealed that only one of 300 “HillRaisers” — supporters who had raised more than $100,000 for Clinton — had formally supported Obama in May. The article went on to report that 115 people who’d given at least $1,000 for Clinton had donated money to the presumptive GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain — a figure equal to those who did the same for Obama.

Clinton supporter and West Coast political heavy-weight Susie Tompkins Buell, who co-founded Espirit, will not support McCain, but doesn’t know if she’ll throw either her backing or financial heft behind Obama either. While she and Iscol had been acquaintances for years, it was during the primary campaign that they bonded over what they felt was malfeasance committed against Clinton. Buell, for her part, felt the media saw disparaging Clinton as a kind of game, with each person seeing how far they could push it.

“I personally just kept waiting for someone to speak up or someone from the Democratic Party to sat this is out of bounds and it never happened,” Buell said. “I’m shocked they got away with it.”

“It remains to be seen,” Buell said when asked if she would write Obama a check. “There are a lot of factors–how he takes care of her debt, how he treats her at the convention, whether she’s really in consideration for vice president. We’re really just concerned with how the Obama campaign treated Sen. Clinton. They were so dismissive of her amazing work and trivialized her work as first lady. Helping her with her debt [Now estimated at $12 million, not including the $13 million the Clintons donated to the campaign] doesn’t seem to be a big priority to him. If they’re so smart, we should have this behind us by this point.”

A spokesperson for the Obama campaign did not respond to a request for comment by deadline. And it would seem that by the joint Clinton-and-Obama appearances, whose frivolity rivals an old Elaine May-Mike Nichols routine, at least publicly Clinton and Obama are content to play nice.

But that doesn’t mean Iscol has to. She bemoaned the failure of the Clinton campaign to understand the new media nimbleness and attraction to youth Obama’s campaign had. She knew that spending as much time as Clinton did in Iowa hurt the campaign both fiscally and emotionally.

Recounting her angry screed in the Huffington Post back in May, Iscol said: “I was really pissed at the party for trying to push her out and I just thought it was completely, completely unfair. I took a beating, but I don’t care. I felt good that I said what I did, and that it mattered enough that so many people had gotten so angry.”

There are of course cooler, or at least more dispassionate heads, among the Clinton ranks. This would include Christina Weiss Lurie. Lurie–who owns the Philadelphia Eagles with her husband Jeffrey–supported Clinton, because she, like Iscol, had known Clinton for several years. It’s not that Lurie disliked Obama–she didn’t even know him. Lurie simply felt Clinton had a better understanding of the issues facing us in this dark hour of American life.

And, unlike others, she isn’t publicly pressing for Obama to choose Clinton as his running mate. Instead, Lurie believes Obama must choose someone who best suits him as a second in command, and trusts that Clinton will have an important place within the campaign. And no, she will not vote for McCain, even though, as owners of a professional sports franchise, the couple supports candidates from both parties.

“I understand that people come from a different place,” Lurie said. “I understand where people come from and why they feel the way they do, but that’s not the path I’m taking. After the last eight years, we have to think pragmatically. We have to think about what is best for the country not only domestically but internationally. So pointing fingers, that’s something I have no interest in. I do understand, at the end of the day, there are people who believe Hillary should have been the nominee, but we have a system in place, and through that system we have Obama as our candidate.”

But still the fervor remains. Now with the primary race over, Iscol, a woman friendly with both candidates, has been left to harness the energy of the past campaign to ensure that the 18 million folks who voted for Clinton will keep their votes within the party.

Yes, Clinton didn’t command the kind of frenzied large rallies that Obama did. But her followers were just as loyal as their counterparts. Now, in mass, they feel they’re owed something by the winning side. With the Clinton supporters who showed up at her home, she helped found a group whose web home, Together4us.com calls on Obama and the DNC to honor “****Hillary Clinton and her supporters at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.” ****As of this writing, de Rothschild, who heads the site, said that close to 5,000 people had signed up. While there is a multiplicty of opinions on how to move forward–from pressing super-delegates to vote for Clinton or making sure she’s the vice presidential nominee–one thing remains clear. They all are devoted to Clinton.

“The long-term purpose of the website is for people to stay together after the election,” said de Rothschild, who’s made it clear she’s no fan of Obama and even included a link to the McCain campaign page on the site. “What we want to do is continue to mobilize people who believe in Hillary Clinton and her policies, support the things she supports and the candidates she supports. These are people who really bled their hearts and souls for Hillary Clinton.”

But there remains the question of now. With a month between now and the Democratic Convention in August, Iscol and the army she helps command are in a race to help secure what they see as the best possible outcome after an exhaustive process.

“This is crunch time,” Iscol said. “It’s the turning point. Who he picks as vice president is either going to electrify the Democratic Party and help us elect him or not. Passion is an interesting thing. He has the opportunity to put together two passionate forces. He needs her. He needs us. He needs her bundlers, he needs her coalition. If she were in his shoes, I’d be saying the exact same thing.”

When asked what would make her a “happy camper”–a reference to her comment to the Journal where Iscol said she simply wasn’t–she took a long pause and her voice dropped to a whisper. Of course, a Clinton presidency would have had her beaming on the cover of an L.L. Bean catalogue. But that was out of the question, and in truth had been since Super Tuesday. Now her expectations had changed.

“I’ll be a very happy camper when he picks her as the vice president,” Iscol said. “Yes. Her 18 million supporters need to be considered and respected. He has an opportunity to ensure a victory by combing his forces with hers. If he does that he will win. I don’t want to be angry. I just want him to do the right thing…Now.”

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