‘We refused to concede Philadelphia’: Ex-Clinton aide on 2008 and why this time will be different

hillary in philly

Hillary Clinton got smoked in Philadelphia by Barack Obama during the 2008 Democratic primary for president, but she still went on to win Pennsylvania — and a former aide says it may not be in small part due to what she was able to accomplish here in Philly.

Mark Nevins, a political consultant who served as Clinton’s Pennsylvania spokesman during her first go-around, said Clinton losing to Obama in a 65-percent-to-35-percent fashion was a success for them.

They’re counting it as a win that they didn’t lose worse.

They anticipated at one point that Obama could blow her out 90-10 or 80-20 and launched “aggressive” campaigning in the city to prevent that from happening.

“We refused to concede Philadelphia at that time to Senator Obama,” Nevins said, “and the reason was that in a voting area this large, even a five percent difference makes a huge change in the statewide totals.”

And Clinton saw that. Despite getting kinda smashed in Philly by somewhere in the neighborhood of 130,000 votes, she was able to hold her in own in some of the Philadelphia suburbs where the race was much closer.

In Chester and Delaware Counties, Obama won by a much smaller margin than he did in the city, and in Montgomery County, Clinton narrowly beat Obama by less than 200 votes. She also took Bucks County. Overall, Clinton ended up winning Pennsylvania with 54.57 percent of the votes, or 1,275,039 to Obama’s 1,061,441.

Nevins, who said he has no plans to work on Clinton’s campaign this time around, said that the dozens of people working out of field offices in Philadelphia — as well as the statewide office headquartered near 15th and Chestnut streets — worked to aggressively campaign in Philly even though they knew they’d likely be beat.

He pointed to work done in some of the city’s underserved neighborhoods, where volunteers with Clinton’s campaign attempted to reach out to voters regarding crime and public safety, working to show people they weren’t writing off Philadelphia completely.

Those efforts were helped by huge local support for Clinton in the way of former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, who was the governor at the time, and Mayor Michael Nutter, who Nevins said was a “unique endorser” in that he had relatively wide support among black and white voters in the city.

“We felt like we should be able to compete for African American voters given the Clinton White House track record,” Nevins said. “We didn’t want to concede those. But it was hard to get African American voters to consider Clinton as a candidate when they could vote for the first ever African American president.”

Things will, of course, be different this time around. Clinton is the hands-down favorite to win the Democratic nomination for president and will likely have Obama campaigning for her, not against her. And while Pennsylvania has gone blue in presidential elections since 1992, Nevins said he doesn’t see it as a gimme for Clinton.

He said he predicts presidential candidates will still be pushing hard in Philadelphia and southeastern PA, explaining that if a candidate can win southeastern PA, it makes it much easier to win the state.

Nevins explained it like this: If you dominate the southeast and win in the Lehigh Valley, you have a shot at taking the northeastern part of the state. From there, if you can break even in Pittsburgh, there aren’t enough votes left in the rest of the state for a Republican to overcome the vote cushion that’s been created.

“Democratic candidates for president,” he said, “have found a roadmap for winning this state.”

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