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Sen. Hillary Clinton addresses delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Aug. 26, 2008.
John Moore/Getty Images
DENVER — Hillary Clinton did not delay in breaking the tension. As she took the stage on the second night of the Democratic convention, the former presidential candidate went right to the question that has dominated Democratic politics for nearly three months.
"I am honored to be here tonight," she said as her thunderous reception began to diminish. "A proud mother. A proud Democrat. A proud American. And a proud supporter of Barack Obama."
Within the first seconds of her address, Clinton had broken the tension that had dominated this gathering and dominated this party. In the remainder of her remarks, she restated and reinforced her embrace of the candidate whose campaign eclipsed her own.
It was the second night in a row the convention headliner had been a woman, and the second night in a row that a woman had delivered just about everything anyone could have asked.
On the first night it was Michelle Obama, the prospective first lady, who did all she could to make Americans comfortable with the notion of the Obamas in the White House. She left the impression that she had been addressing arenas filled with thousands of strangers all her life.
But Clinton's feat was on another plane. She was being asked to endorse enthusiastically a man she has resented mightily for his refusal to wait his turn. Animosity remains between the two campaigns over numerous issues, including money. The Clinton folks feel they've done far more to raise money for Obama's fall campaign than Obama donors have done to retire Hillary's debts from the spring.
And Hillary Clinton & Co. have every reason to feel they have lost something here that was rightfully theirs. Hillary Clinton came to Denver having won more votes, more states and more delegates than anyone else in convention history who did not get the nomination. Clinton could fairly claim she had the momentum in the latter months of the primaries, and it was evident she commanded intense loyalty among her supporters.
No wonder some expected this convention to feature a real contest, with Clinton making one last effort to persuade superdelegates to abandon their stated preference for Barack Obama. Others suggested she could pry open the vice presidential nomination, petitioning to have that choice thrown open to the full convention.
Clinton showed no interest in either of those scenarios, but she did not rebuke those who did. She refused to waive her right to have her name placed in nomination or her right to a roll call vote. She said she wanted to show respect for the delegates who worked for her, voted for her and believed deeply in her candidacy.
Fair enough. But Tuesday night was the night for the No. 2 finisher to give her speech and declare her intentions. Was she going to fight on? Would she withhold her endorsement of his fall campaign?
Her speech was an emphatic answer to these and other questions. Within the first minute of her address, she called herself "a proud supporter of Barack Obama," and she added: "Whether you voted for me or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose."
Unlike the concession speech she gave in Washington, D.C., on June 7, this presentation went right at the question of what Clinton devotees should do now that she's been eliminated. "I want you to ask yourselves: Were you in this campaign just for me?" Clinton told the delegates who were still calling her name and imploring her to continue her campaign that the reasons she ran for president were now the reasons she supported her rival.
She indulged in a recollection of the 1990s that highlighted the achievements of her husband Bill's two terms in the White House (without, of course, any mention of impeachment or other travails). Then she pivoted quickly to saying: "President Obama and the Democrats will do it again."
You could find moments to quibble about, such as the mantra she built around the Harriett Tubman admonition: "Keep going." No matter how pursued or beleaguered you are, she said, keep going. It was hard not to imagine at least one ardent supporter shouting out: "Then keep running!"
But in the end, Clinton was indeed sending a new message about a changed mission. She wanted her people to transfer their passion to the new goal. As she wound up her remarks, party operatives crept down the aisles of the Pepsi Center handing out new signs. They said UNITY on one side, and either HILLARY or OBAMA on the other side.
On cue, the new signs popped up everywhere at once.