Clinton travels well in Indian country on endorsements and a track record
The Hillary Clinton campaign for president has traveled the well-worn path of past political machines in her courtship of Indian country - secure endorsements, announce them strategically, and rely on a proven track record.
And so on the eve of Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, with 22 states and American Samoa offering more than a thousand Democratic delegates to the party's nominating convention in August, Clinton announced endorsements from two of the largest Indian voting blocs in the nation - the Navajo, represented by President Joe Shirley Jr., and the Oklahoma Cherokee, represented by past principal chief and national figure Wilma Mankiller. Clinton won both Oklahoma and Arizona going away. She also took the leading two treasure troves of delegates, New York, where she has been criticized by tribal leaders but expected to do well as a senator and resident of the state; and California, with its many rancherias and several Indian-populous cities and regions, where she also won by a wide margin. She had the unannounced endorsement there, among others, of Jaquie Davis-Van Huss, chairman of the North Fork Mono Rancheria, won over by Clinton's videotaped appearance at the National Congress of American Indians convention in Denver.
But that she can't take anything for granted became clear in New Mexico, home to a significant number of pueblo tribes and many Navajo citizens, as well as a host of the Hispanic voters who served her well in California, according to pollsters. The Democratic primary there was too close to call officially at press time, though several national media outlets had called it for her rival, Sen. Barack Obama.
In any case, the Democratic senators from New York and Illinois continue to struggle for every delegate, and they continue to court the Indian vote as they go. Clinton has answered Obama's promise of senior Indian appointees in the White House and annual meetings between tribes and the White House with a pledge of pro-sovereignty appointments throughout the government. And where he promises change, as showcased in a debate Feb. 4 on the Native America Calling radio hour between Obama adviser Keith Harper and her own Holly Cook Macarro of Ietan Consulting in Washington, she insists that promises are easy and offers experience as the only reliable promise for positive change in Washington.
Clinton's track record, of course, includes eight years as first lady to President Bill Clinton, a revered figure in many parts of Indian country for pro-Indian measures that included an executive order that all government departments observe a government-to-government relationship toward tribes.
Predictably enough, Bill Clinton was on the campaign trail for his spouse in Arizona in the days before Super Tuesday.
He may have other opportunities - as the Clintons most certainly have other endorsements to announce - in Indian country as the primary season forges ahead, no candidate decisively in the lead though Clinton holds a negligible edge in delegates at present. Hawaii or Wisconsin on Feb. 19, Wyoming on March 8, Montana or South Dakota on June 3 - any of these primary states, with their comparatively large numbers of Native votes, could prove decisive. Or the nomination could hinge on 796 so-called ''super delegates'' at the party's nominating convention in Denver in August - party officials, sitting lawmakers, former presidents and other Democratic Party leaders whose votes will be unpledged if no candidate by then has won the 2,025 delegates needed to lock up the nomination.