Eight years ago at this time, Missouri Congressman Emanuel Cleaver was a Hillary Clinton man.
That he picked the New York senator over Barack Obama was a decision that had Cleaver in the political crosshairs for months.
African Americans called him all kinds of names, Cleaver recalled this week. One of them was “Uncle Tom.”
“We thought you loved your people,” Cleaver said, repeating a line he heard back then. “How could you abandon somebody black?”
Well, he did because he said he knew Clinton better. At least that’s how he explained it on that day in August 2007 when he made his declaration.
“I ultimately came down on the side of loyalty,” the Missouri Democrat told reporters at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Kansas City. “I've been friends with Mrs. Clinton. I think she can win.”
He also bristled at the suggestion that his decision not to endorse Obama was a surprise.
That Cleaver endorsed Clinton on the same day that Obama gave a speech in Kansas City wasn’t lost on anybody. The congressman was making a statement.
Cleaver was Kansas City’s mayor during much of Bill Clinton’s presidency.
In April 2008, as the tough primary campaign continued between Obama and Clinton, Cleaver predicted that Obama would ultimately win the nomination. But he still stuck with Clinton.
Cleaver said his loyalty to Clinton wound up paying dividends with Obama after he became the 44th president. The congressman said the president respected his steadfastness.
In 2012, Obama named Cleaver one of 35 national co-chairs of his re-election campaign.
Backing Clinton again this time around was an easy call for Cleaver. This week, he predicted that his candidate would beat Bernie Sanders on Saturday in Nevada and next weekend in South Carolina. The Democratic race, he said, will then come a quick conclusion.
This election year, Cleaver said, “is infinitely more pleasant.”