Robert Walsh Now Regrets Backing Obama over Clinton in 2008

Jun 6, 2013

Walsh bending the ear of House Speaker Gordon Fox during a previous legislative session
Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

One of Rhode Island's most prominent Democratic union leaders, Robert A. Walsh Jr., says he now regrets backing Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in 2008:

"I was an early and vocal supporter of President Obama's first bid for [presidential] office, and in hindsight, I probably should have been an early and vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton. So for all my friends who have chastised me for that, this is an admission that I was wrong on that case -- on the experience issue."

Walsh is the executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, the state's largest teachers' union, which helped to put Lincoln Chafee's independent gubernatorial campaign over the top in 2010. Walsh's comment came in response to a question on RIPR's Bonus Q+A about how well President Obama has used his skills in the White House. (The segment airs Friday at 6:40 and 8:40 am.)

Speaking of Obama and Clinton, Walsh continued:

"My motivating issue and the differential between the two of them was their approach to foreign policy and specifically the war in Iraq. And I still feel very feel strongly about that. But in hindsight, leadership and experience matter, and I think the president came into office not fully prepared to lead.

"I think he thought that he could be a accommodationist with Republicans on the other side of the aisle, who had no -- no -- interest in working with him, so he'd start negotiating in the middle and they'd drag his positions further to the right." 

Walsh says he believes wider disaffection among Democrats is fueling enthusiasm for an expected presidential campaign by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Walsh says he believes President Obama "has had some great accomplishments," particularly the national health care plan known as the Affordable Care Act.

The union leader says he doesn't believe Obama bears blame for many of the scandals that have recently dogged the White House. "I defend him on those issues," Walsh says, "because those are not things that normally would even be in the dialogue, but I am disappointed in some of his leadership in other areas."

Clinton beat Obama by more than 30,000 votes in Rhode Island's March 2008 primary, a contest that marked the state's largest primary vote. The fight created some fissures in Rhode Island's Democratic Party, traditionally a bulwark of support for the Clintons, as I noted at the time:

[T]he Democratic battle has divided families and the staffs of some local officeholders — with the most high-profile split being Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch’s decision to support Obama, thereby differentiating himself from most of the state’s Democratic establishment, including his brother, Bill, a Clinton supporter and chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic Party.

Also supporting Obama was Lincoln Chafee, who left the Republican Party in 2007, and won plaudits from the president after becoming a Democrat last month.