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Campaign operations go toe-to-toe in Mass.

Alex Bloom | 6/5/2009, 7:10 a.m.

The quest for the Democratic presidential nomination in Massachusetts is in full swing, with supporters for Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois already on the ground and organizing here in Boston.

Obama already has received endorsements from Gov. Deval Patrick and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., while Clinton has the support of Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and U.S. Reps. Barney Frank and Jim McGovern.

In Boston, the battle lines have been drawn, with local officials torn between Obama and Clinton.

State Reps. Linda Dorcena Forry and Gloria Fox, who both have endorsed Obama, expressed their support for the Illinois senator along with City Councilors Sam Yoon and Mike Ross and Diane Patrick, the governor’s wife, at a gathering in Fields Corner on Monday night to watched the nationally televised Democratic debate.

“I believe in [Obama] as a man,” Fox said. “I believe in him as a candidate who has been working hard to tell folks the truth about what’s going on in this country. And I believe he is the promise for [all of] us, [not just] black people.”

Dorcena Forry echoed that sentiment.

“The thing that I think is most important — and people feel this when they see him speak — is he understands what people are going through and he is able to put that in a vision and give people hope,” she said. “I think it really empowers people and gets people to move forward.”

State Sen. Dianne Wilkerson is expected to endorse Obama as well.

Those supporting Hilary Clinton are equally passionate. The Clinton campaign recently announced that they have received the endorsement of state Rep. Marie St. Fleur, and they have enjoyed longstanding support from Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral.

“For me, the bottom line is experience. I think experience matters,” St. Fleur said. “She has the experience of being a proven leader.”

St. Fleur said that Clinton’s work with the Children’s Defense Fund and her track record in government prove that she is more prepared than Obama to handle the presidency.

“I happen to think she’s very smart and very tough. I have watched her withstand attacks that most people would not be able to survive, and she’s done it with dignity and grace,” St. Fleur said. “You’re going to have to have the backbone and the stomach to take the hits, and she’s demonstrated that.”

Cabral said Clinton is the better choice because of the experience and leadership she would bring to the office.

For Cabral, the issue is not about being the first female or the first black president — to her, both milestones of are equal importance. The next most important issue, she explained, is which candidate is best equipped to get the job done.

“I think this country is in a bit of trouble, both domestically and internationally,” Cabral said. “It is very, very important to me and to people I speak with that we get leadership that is both proven and visionary. She’s probably the strongest leader I’ve ever met. Clearly, her intellect is just astonishing and her capacity to understand both the depth and breadth of issues and get a handle on them and see them go forward is unparalleled.”

Both campaigns have already energized grassroots support throughout Boston. Reid Cherlin, press spokesperson for the Obama campaign in Massachusetts, said that the Illinois senator’s operation has coordinators in all of Boston’s 22 wards, leading canvassing and phone banking operations several times a week.

The Obama campaign also has the support of the union UNITE HERE.

“Ultimately, this is about person-to-person contact at the grassroots level and getting the message out person to person and friend to friend,” Cherlin said.

The Clinton campaign has signed up 16,000 volunteers statewide and opened a new office in Dorchester on Wednesday, according to campaign representatives.

Members of the staff were not available to comment, although state campaign director Roger Lau did release information about the former first lady’s statewide organization.

Organizing meetings throughout Massachusetts, and especially in the Boston area, have been very successful, according to Lau. A meeting in Cambridge drew 126 supporters and one in Newton brought 64 supporters. The organizing meetings are planned not by Clinton staff, but instead by local volunteers.

Clinton also has the support of 61 of 137 Democrats in the state House of Representatives, as well as 22 of 35 Democrats in the state Senate. The campaign hopes those local, grassroots endorsements will make more of a difference for voters than the statewide nods Obama received from Patrick and Kerry.

Michael Goldman, a political consultant with the Government Insight Group, predicted that grassroots get-out-the-vote efforts will make the difference in the presidential primary here.

“The vast majority of Democrats do not participate in presidential primaries. It’s one of the smallest turnouts of any election cycle,” Goldman said. “It’s not a surprise that these campaigns feel so compelled to be aggressive in getting out their vote.”

As the fifth-largest of the 22 states and territories holding caucuses on Feb. 5, both campaigns understand the importance of winning the majority of Massachusetts’ 93 delegates.

“It’s a state that we’re paying attention to and competing hard in,” Cherlin said.

Cherlin noted, however, that although Obama is working diligently in Massachusetts, the senator is running a national campaign.

“This is a campaign about changing the country and there’s no place where we’re not going to be talking to voters and communicating our vision,” Cherlin said.

The Commonwealth has long ties to supporting the Clintons.

“Massachusetts has always been Clinton country,” said Goldman, who added that President Bill Clinton was “wildly popular” here during his two terms in the Oval Office.

But St. Fleur was quick to point nothing should be taken for granted in this contest — prior popularity included.

“I don’t think there should be any assumptions made at all,” said St. Fleur, who pointed out that Bay State voters will be judging Hillary and not the former president. “She has to work just as hard any other candidate that puts their name up for president.”

Cherlin said that as voters pay more attention to the election, more voters will be attracted to the Obama campaign.

“This is ultimately about where we want to go as a nation,” Cherlin said. “When you talk to people about this election, it’s clear they want fundamental change.

“The more people engage in the race, just as we see in other states, the more people realize Obama is the one who can change the direction of the nation.”