New York, NY -- Down a dark and foggy street, up a creaky, narrow flight of stairs, one might think they were entering an illegal Chinatown poker game or an after hours Brooklyn rave.
Instead, behind the nondescript apartment door in a charming uptown brownstone, sits a small, low-key group of professional twenty and thirty-somethings munching on pizza and sipping white wine. Far from running a secret brothel, they are having a quiet night at home, indulging in the political junkie's equivalent of must-see TV -- the Obama Clinton one on one debate Thursday night.
Between long-winded answers and uncharacteristically chummy rejoinders, the group yells out humorous jabs at the screen. One guest channels his inner Hillary-as-Tracy-Flick, mocking the Senator's annoyance at facing such a huge challenge to her candidacy: "Don't push me, Wolf. This is just a formality. It's my White House, damn it! I am the President!" Another shrieks "Ask her about Wal-Mart!"
It seems like your average group of politically interested friends. So why the cloak and dagger antics?
Because this isn't your typical clatch of concerned citizens. They all used to work for the Clintons in various junior and middle level roles. They are all currently supporting Obama. And they are all scared to death someone will find out.
"The fact is is that the political arena for staffers is a business, and you have your own interests to protect," says P., who hosted the event.
None of the attendees allowed ABC News to quote them by name for fear of damaging their relationships with the Clinton campaign. They also wished to leave the possibility open that they may want to work for the Clintons again down the road.
"If you want a job, if you want to build a career in this business, you don't want to piss the Clintons off because of the nature of the way they work," P. said.
Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson rejects these fears entirely.
"The Democratic party is one family. Right now we are in a vigorous primary. We will be united to take on John McCain in the Fall," Wolfson told ABCNews.
The Clinton team is reputed to put a premium on loyalty, typified by the "Hillaryland" staffers who started with the former First Lady back in the early 1990s, and many of whom are currently running her campaign. Not one of this inner circle has left the team to write a tell-all memoir, a devotion rarely seen in the political arena.
But on the flip side of such a tight-knit team spirit is an apprehension in those who have moved on to greener professional pastures. The group has an ongoing joke that if any of them is ever found bound and gagged with an Obama t-shirt under three tons of garbage at Fresh Kills, the others will know who did it.
Behind the jokes, however, is a real fear of retribution. The former staffers all say even though they held relatively low level positions, they believe the Clintons and their senior advisors would remember a slight such as publicly supporting a rival, and potentially hold it against them in the future.
"[It's] the politics of persecution where if you stray, the iron fist is gonna come down on you," says P. "I've heard that if anyone speaks on the record against Hillary, they will not work on the Clinton campaign after the nomination. I know staffers who have volunteered at Obama events out of curiosity, and they received threats they wouldn't be hired ...I mean that's the way they roll . They value loyalty above anything else, above intelligence, anything else."
And yet many members of the Clintons' former team have publicly gone over to Obama's side and don't appear to have suffered consequences. They include longtime Clinton friend and lawyer Greg Craig, who now advises Obama, and former State Department official Susan Rice, now one of Obama's leading foreign policy advisors. Former Clinton Justice official Eric Holder, who supports Obama, told the Boston Globe in October, "I say this with sadness, but it is nevertheless a reality. My feelings of loyalty are outweighed by my concern about the world my kids are going to live in."
They seem to have maintained good relations with the Clintons. Nevertheless, would they be welcome back into the fold should Hillary clinch the nomination?
Although the debate-watchers admit to being turned off by the Clintons' aggressive campaign strategies in South Carolina and Nevada, it's not the couple's bare-knuckle style of campaigning that's led to their defection. As P. puts it, "I don't think any of us are sissies, we don't think politics is like touch football. We're not naïve, we understand it's a full body contact sport."
Rather, they supoprt the Illinois senator for the same reason many Obama supporters cite -- they argue he represents fundamental change.
"It's not that I don't think Hillary Clinton's qualified to be President," says P. "Clearly Hillary Clinton becoming President would be a big change for the country. But I think the difference is between change and transformation."
"I mean the Clinton administration had a lot of great achievements and a lot of great accomplishments," P. continues. "But I don't think there's an appetite in this country to relive all of the down sides….there was a lot of wasted time, and a lot of Bill Clinton's agenda never got substantively addressed because so much of his time was consumed by politics and fighting with the Republicans. And the nature of the Clintons is that they engender this kind of fighting."
"I don't think Senator Clinton would be able to win," says A., another debate-watcher. "She does not have-broad based support. I think people forget the extreme anti-Clinton sentiment that rests in this country, and the people that will be mobilized to come out and vote regardless of who the Republican candidate is, if a Clinton's on the ticket. So for me, I want a winner, I want to see a Democrat in office. That's why I'm supporting Obama."
Not Closing the Door
Still, if Hillary Clinton does win the presidency and called on anyone from the group to work her for, they each say they wouldn't hesitate.
"I felt I felt it was an honor to serve, to work for the Clintons when I did, and if the opportunity presented itself I'd be honored again," says A.
"You have an opportunity to be in the administration, in the government, when you can really do things to change the country," says P. "However you feel about the Clintons…at the end of the day, if it's the Clintons versus the Republicans, I would always go with the Clintons."