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THE NATION

I love you, but not your candidate

Forget the Democratic Party: What's the campaign doing to households split over Clinton vs. Obama?

May 11, 2008|Doug Smith and Dan Morain | Times Staff Writers

Bob Marshalla made a $100 contribution to his choice for president last summer. As the Democratic primary season rolled out, he upped that with $200, $300 and $500 donations.

Then his wife started giving too -- but not to the same candidate.

"We're a mixed marriage," said Renee Marshalla, a bookkeeper who likes Hillary Rodham Clinton's toughness and finds her husband's admiration of Barack Obama's message of hope a bit naive.

"We watch 'Hardball' together every day until one of us gets angry," said Bob, an investment counselor.

Between them, the Marshallas of Palo Alto have drained their family budget by just under $4,000 to feed their mutual zest for politics.

For more than a year, the political version of "The War of the Roses" has been raging in Democratic homes across the country. Friendly wagers have been made, evenings have been ravaged and all manner of persuasion has been tried -- and often has failed.

As the pundits see an end to the race in sight, some of the bets soon may be paying off. Wounds might start to heal and dinner conversations could turn more civil.

Or maybe not.

"I campaigned so hard to counteract him," Barbara Hosein said of Everold, her husband of 39 years.

And she has trampled over his $250 contribution to Clinton, giving $2,000 to Obama. Now that her candidate seems to have secured a safe lead for the nomination -- in part because of his strong (though losing) effort in the Hoseins' home state of Indiana -- she confessed: "I sometimes threw away some solicitations."

In the money race among households that split their support between candidates, Clinton has received $1.3 million, compared with $1.1 million for Obama, a Times analysis of campaign reports shows.

"I was a little shocked when I opened up the credit card bill," said attorney Mark Samuels of La Canada Flintridge. He had given $2,300 to Clinton through a contact at work and had no idea that his wife, Nancy, also a lawyer, was contributing to Obama.

On rare occasion, one family member has switched allegiances and brought unity to the household.

The Hauptfuhrer family of Charlotte, N.C., was about as split as it could be. Wife Cammie donated $1,000 to Clinton, while her husband, W. Barnes, contributed $2,300 to Obama.

"We're used to canceling each other out," she said.

Perhaps it was their teenage son who tipped the balance with his complaints about the tension at the dinner table.

As the primary campaign wore on, Cammie shifted to Obama -- drawn to his message and what she described as his softer tone and his concern for society's have-nots.

In a 23-year marriage, she said, it may be the first time her husband has ever won such an argument.

"He does like to point that out," she said.

Republican households were no less vulnerable to such division as the GOP sorted through its own list of presidential contenders.

But the drawn-out and souring dynamics of the Democratic primary have subtly pushed their way into domestic relationships.

"What's frustrating to him is the extent to which her campaign goes negative," said Dana Fenwick, who gave Clinton $250, compared with the $2,300 her husband, Anthony, gave to Obama. She's sticking by her candidate, whose resiliency she admires.

"I don't have the same visceral reaction to Obama that he does to Hillary," she said. "Let's just say he's very protective of his candidate -- where my candidate, part of her appeal is her wherewithal. She doesn't need my defending."

The Fenwicks found that money isn't the only battleground when it comes to politically mixed marriages.

He stuck his Obama sign on the grass strip facing the street. Then they tussled over how close hers could be without blocking his from the view of passing cars. Finally they compromised by moving both signs back on the lawn -- on opposite sides of the walkway.

Gender often seems just below the surface.

Heidi Landers of Pacific Palisades said her husband, Richard, wouldn't tell her whom he backed until she asked point-blank the day after the California primary.

"Dad voted for Obama," she said she told her daughter at breakfast, then cursed to vent her feeling of betrayal.

She said she was surprised when daughter Jordan, 21, took her side. She had expected their daughter to stand by her father.

"My mouth fell open," Landers said. "A little bit of woman power there."

Many of the husbands interviewed by The Times -- mainly lawyers, investment bankers and chief executives who support Obama -- described themselves as being magnanimous as their candidate moved seemingly closer to victory. But their wives aren't willing to concede defeat, they said.

"When you look for the other side to run up a white flag, you don't need to open up with the guns," said Obama donor M. Laurence Popofsky of San Francisco. "I think she is content to let it play out. I am content to let it play out."

"Isn't it wonderful how men always know what their wives are thinking?" his wife, Linda, said.

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