WASHINGTON — Evie McNulty and her husband, Jim, have been there from the beginning.
She is Lackawanna County’s recorder and he is Scranton’s former mayor. Despite serving only one term in the 1980s, he is credited with starting the renaissance of the former industrial city; he enjoys popularity and stature as the city’s unofficial ambassador, the kind of popularity you can’t get in public office.
Charming, smart, folksy, beloved and, above all, very connected, they are the Democratic Party’s powerhouses in Northeast Pennsylvania.
Arguably, their support and network is more valuable to a Democrat in a primary or general election than anything that state party chairman Jim Burn could deliver to a presidential candidate.
Six years ago last month, Evie wept on her couch in Scranton as then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., took to the stage at the National Building Museum in Washington — where supporters had lined up around the block for hours — and told the cheering crowd of mostly women and families, "Well, this isn’t exactly the party I’d planned, but I sure like the company."
It marked a spectacular end to arguably the longest presidential primary race in modern American political history.
Clinton started the campaign in 2007 slightly blindsided by a freshman senator from Illinois, who barely had a year under his belt in Washington.
She was even more blindsided by the loss of support in Washington — from the Teddy Kennedys of the political world who were legends, as well as from the "fresh" Washingtonians such as Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. Their endorsements of Sen. Barack Obama instead of Clinton were a sharp slap in the face to the former first lady.
In late 2007 and early 2008, Clinton stumbled out of the gate; she was too rigid, too strident, failed to reach out to the progressive activists who make or break low-turnout caucus contests and, above all, was way over-handled by her advisers and staff.
"They did not let Hillary be Hillary," said McNulty from her home, and you could hear her husband in the background agreeing.
When Clinton reached the Midwest and South, especially the primary races in Ohio and Texas, she shed her handlers and began to hit her stride, according to McNulty. "By the time she hit her home state of Pennsylvania, she had her groove on, she connected, she relaxed, she was herself, and that is the Hillary Clinton I know and love."
To the McNultys, Hillary Rodham Clinton is one of them — a daughter of Scranton, where generations of the Rodham family worked at the lace factory, where she was baptized and spent summers, and where her brothers still own a cabin.
McNulty is clear about who Scranton will endorse in a primary race between Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, who also grew up in the city: "Sorry, sir, with all due respect, this is Hillary Country."
McNulty defends Clinton’s rocky rollout of her book tour, during which she was criticized for remarks that seemed out of touch with working-class voters and with the populist movement percolating outside Washington in both political parties. That movement is building incredible momentum against all things elite and big — big banks, big government, big money.
"They should have called me, I would tell her to just be herself," she said.
Today, McNulty spends her time collecting names, phone numbers and email addresses for Clinton’s next presidential campaign. The county row officer, who has won every election since 1998 by overwhelming majorities, really wants only one thing in return.
"Every year we try to get Hillary to come and speak to our Society of Irish Women dinner but she has been unable to because, when she was senator, they had their parade in New York, and she had her hands full when she was running for president, then she was so busy when she was secretary of State," said McNulty, one of three Pennsylvania women elected to the Democratic National Committee.
"God, I wish we could, I wish we could," she said excitedly of getting Clinton to speak at the next St. Patrick’s Day dinner in Scranton.
Clearly, she is "Ready for Hillary," as the pre-2016 bumper stickers and buttons declare.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Political Reporter