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Obama luring ex-Bill Clinton aides

Many view candidate as face of future

When Deval Patrick called on a sea of nearly 10,000 people to support Barack Obama for president, he became only the latest in a series of high-profile officials from Bill Clinton's administration endorsing, advising, or working for Obama, Hillary Clinton's rival for the Democratic nomination.

Clinton enjoys the backing of much of her husband's political machine and her own ultra-loyal staff from the 1990s, and both groups have helped build an air of inevitability about her winning the nomination. But a significant group of former Clinton advisers and officials have gone the other way.

Former energy and transportation secretary Federico Peña, former commerce secretary William Daley, foreign policy gurus Anthony Lake and Susan Rice, former Navy secretary Richard Danzig, and women's advocate Betsy Myers are among those who served Bill Clinton but have taken Obama's side. Patrick, who was assistant attorney general for civil rights, endorsed him at rally on Boston Common on Tuesday night.

In interviews this week, half a dozen Obama supporters with Clinton roots said they see the 46-year-old, first-term Illinois senator as the face of the future and the best hope for the party. While they don't directly criticize Clinton, they said that another Clinton presidency would not represent enough of a change in American politics or its image in the world. Some also said she is too divisive to beat the Republican nominee or to govern effectively.

"One of the chief things that would energize a very dispirited Republican Party is Hillary Clinton on the ticket," said Eric Holder, who was second-in-command at the Justice Department in the late 1990s and who likens Obama to John F. Kennedy.

Holder said Clinton's high negative ratings are a result of Republican attacks, not her own doing. "I say this with sadness, but it is nevertheless a reality," he said. "My feelings of loyalty are outweighed by my concern about the world my kids are going to live in."

Most of those who served during her husband's two terms are supporting Clinton, her campaign says. They include former secretaries of state Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright - who is stumping for Clinton in New Hampshire today - former chiefs of staff John Podesta and Erskine Bowles, former secretary of the interior Bruce Babbitt, former secretary of energy Hazel O'Leary and economic adviser Gene Sperling.

Members of Clinton's own White House staff, who have long called themselves "Hillaryland," are also famously devoted to her. They include her campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle, policy director Neera Tanden, and top advisers Ann Lewis and Maggie Williams.

"Senator Clinton is honored by the tremendous support she's received from hundreds of former Clinton administration officials and employees she has known for decades," campaign spokeswoman Kathleen Strand said yesterday.

A few Clinton alumni have joined other Democratic campaigns, including Miles Lackey, a former National Security Council member advising John Edwards, and Doug Sosnik, a top Clinton aide who is advising Chris Dodd. Both Lackey and Sosnik have longstanding ties to the candidates they are supporting.

But some of the former Clinton administration officials, including Peña, Danzig, and Myers, didn't know Obama before they considered joining his campaign. Rather, they were inspired by his appeal to optimism and call for less division in politics. Several people said they were deeply moved by his autobiography, "Dreams From My Father," and his celebrated speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004.

Some also cited his youth as a plus, saying it is time for a new generation to take power. At 46, he is the youngest major party presidential candidate. Clinton turns 60 tomorrow.

"He's a thoughtful, youthful new voice with a new vision for finding common ground, rather than finding a reason for conflict and difference," said Greg Craig, who defended Bill Clinton against impeachment in the Monica Lewinsky scandal and now advises Obama on foreign policy. "I think he represents the future and everybody else in this election is more of same of the past."

Several people stressed they were choosing Obama, not rejecting Clinton. "I admire her so much," said Myers, who launched the White House office for women's initiatives and outreach and is now the Obama campaign's chief operating officer.

There have been whispers that the Clinton campaign has been heavy-handed in pressuring political veterans not to sign up with any of her rivals, but the Obama supporters said they'd experienced no such thing.

When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, people who had worked for his Democratic rivals were often bypassed for White House jobs, said David Gergen, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government who served in the administrations of several presidents, including Clinton, and has not taken sides in the 2008 election.

Each former Clinton official who now supports Obama "had to make the decision knowing that, very likely, you would burn your bridges," he said. But perhaps paradoxically, Gergen said, Clinton's wide lead in national polls has thawed tensions between the two camps. "There's a lot of goodwill right now at the staff level."

Although the shifts seem to have slowed as Clinton's lead has grown, Peña, who endorsed Obama about six weeks ago, said there may be more. 'The interesting thing is the people from the administration who called and wanted to know my thinking," he said. "They were intrigued."

Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at bombardieri@globe.com.

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