Mark your calendars for June 27, when Hillary Rodham Clinton will join Barack Obama on the campaign trail for the first time and the one-time Democratic primary rivals should command the media’s undivided attention.
The Obama campaign did not disclose just where the pair would stump together, saying only that the details were still being worked out. It’s an important decision, since the symbolism of where they appear will be at least as important as the choreography of the event itself.
The ultimate location will likely be a safe choice — a vaguely symbolic town or city in a battleground state — and these are five places that would offer a maximum political return:
Broward County, Fla.
Let’s face it: The politically engaged, mostly Jewish senior citizen condo commandos of South Florida still aren’t sold on Obama. Between the Florida primary fiasco, the viral emails, his former pastor’s pro-Palestinian remarks and his willingness to negotiate directly with countries such as Iran, Obama can use some help with this key demographic group in this battleground state.
Bringing in the junior senator from New York to vouch for him will go a long way. She won heavily Democratic Broward County — the state’s second-most populous county — with ease in the Jan. 29 contest, outdistancing Obama by nearly 25 percentage points. Sure, he didn’t put up much of a fight in Florida, but given the high numbers of ex-New Yorkers and senior citizens in Broward, it’s a safe bet she would have won big there anyway.
“She also did very well there during the primary,” said Florida Democratic Party spokesman Mark Bubriski. “The fact that she’s from New York gives her an ability to connect that’s unique.”
The payoff of a Broward joint event is almost limitless. It would send a signal to the Jewish community about Obama’s bona fides and represent a significant step toward reconciling party fractures. Party regulars nationwide who are still smarting over the 2000 presidential election would recognize the symbolism of Broward County.
Both Clinton and Obama made strong plays for the white working-class voters of industrial Youngstown, but in the end, Clinton thrashed Obama in Youngstown’s Mahoning County by a nearly two-to-one ratio.
These are the kind of Democratic voters that Obama has had the toughest time winning over: blue-collar, white ethnic, Catholic — and gun owners to boot.
A joint event would provide a well-publicized platform for Obama to speak to economically dislocated, working-class voters in a city and a state that he failed to carry in the primary in part due to doubts about the sincerity of his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement — doubts that have been revived as he’s shifted away from organized labor and toward the political center to take on John McCain.
“Clinton really connected with both women and men on her economic message,” said Jenny Backus, a Democratic strategist. “Clinton standing arm in arm with Obama would be the visual some people would need to say, ‘she’s giving him the economic blessing.’”
Besides shoring up his economic bona fides among blue-collar Dems, there would be additional benefits: an appearance by popular Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, an avalanche of free media in a battleground state and media market bleed into western Pennsylvania, another area where he could use some shoring up.
San Antonio, Texas
No one thinks Obama is going to carry the Lone Star state. But he’s committing staff resources there, and if that forces the McCain campaign to turn its gaze to a safe red state like Texas, that in itself qualifies as a strategic victory.
And if the Obama campaign has the cash to fight the enemy on his turf, as Rudy Giuliani might put it, then why not hod the headline-grabbing Obama-Clinton event there? With Clinton at his side, it could bolster his national standing among the older Hispanic voters who were underwhelmed by his candidacy during the primary season.
"Sen. Obama has a gap to close with we Mexican-Americans,” said Erick Mullen, a Democratic consultant. “He should tackle it head-on in Texas — think South San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley.”
Mingo County, W.Va.
Appearing with Clinton in the heart of the anti-Obama belt — the section of Appalachia where Clinton racked up 70, 80 and in more than a few instances, 90 percent of the vote against Obama — would be a bold statement about his intention to address the vulnerabilities the primary season exposed in his candidacy.
Mingo, like many of its neighboring counties across the border in Kentucky and nearby in Virginia, didn’t simply reject Obama. It had a visceral loathing of his candidacy — delivering just 8 percent of its vote to him, compared to Clinton’s 88 percent. Race clearly played a role in that result, so bringing the Obama-Clinton roadshow to Appalachia would be an important step toward bridging that racial gap, not to mention a sign that he is not writing off Kentucky and West Virginia just yet. The media coverage of such a politically daring and conciliatory stunt would be almost unimaginably fawning, though the out-of-the-way location would likely diminish the size of the media pack.
Maricopa County, Ariz.
What better place to stick it to John McCain than in his own backyard?
Sure, Maricopa would be a heavy lift. It hasn’t gone Democratic in a presidential election since before Obama was born. But Democrats are enthused about their long-term prospects in Arizona, and the West is a key component of the Obama electoral strategy. There’s an intimidation factor here too: Choosing the Phoenix area for such a meaningful Democratic moment would be yet another signal that Obama’s resources are such that he can commit his time, money and political capital anywhere he wants, even in places where the return seems doubtful — and force McCain to drain his more limited resources in defending what should be his home turf.
An Obama-Clinton appearance here would showcase both the campaign’s intention to expand beyond the traditional Democratic map, and the support of popular Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano. And again there is the Hispanic component: Clinton would be offering her imprimatur in a county with America’s fifth-largest Hispanic population.
Honorable mentions: Manchester, New Hampshire; Las Vegas, Nevada; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Little Rock, Arkansas.