Achieving Democratic Unity In Denver

The Democratic National Convention gets underway Monday in Denver. Sen. Hillary Clinton is expected to formally release her delegates to Barack Obama. But will that move unite the party? Co-host Renee Montagne talks with NPR News Analyst Cokie Roberts about whether the party can come together.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

When the Democratic National Convention begins today in Denver, Michelle Obama will be the primetime speaker. There will also be a tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy, who's fighting a brain tumor. The convention starts after Senator Barack Obama introduced his vice presidential pick over the weekend, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware.

And joining us to talk about that from Denver is NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee. It's early here.

MONTAGNE: It's early, so I guess I won't ask you what the weather is like. You probably haven't walked around yet. But this convention...

ROBERTS: Oh, I've been out, I've been out. It's quite nice.

MONTAGNE: Well, this convention is a moment for Democrats to come together. That would be the idea. Where do things stand with Hillary Clinton's strongest supporters?

ROBERTS: Well, of course, that is kind of the story of this convention, and according to a couple of national polls out in the last few days, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, an ABC/Washington Post poll, both still say that about a third of her voters are still having trouble landing behind Barack Obama. They say they're either undecided or voting for McCain.

Now, the McCain campaign is doing its best to stir up those voters against Barack Obama. After he picked Joe Biden over the weekend, they released immediately an ad saying he didn't pick Hillary Clinton because she criticized him and it showed her critique.

And there have been some Clinton voters who have been quoted saying that they're upset that she was not even really thought about as a vice presidential pick, that she wasn't even vetted.

She's been trying to tamp that down. She says that she, Senator Clinton, will vote for Obama as a superdelegate, and that she will release her delegates to vote for him. There's some talk that there would not even be a roll call, that Obama would be nominated by acclimation. But last night the chairman of the convention, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said there would be a roll call. And Hillary Clinton herself is making it very clear that when that time comes she will be a good soldier and she will set an example for her delegates to vote for Obama.

MONTAGNE: Is all of this working? I mean, are we likely to see any rebellion in the convention on the part of her supporters?

ROBERTS: You know, I really don't think so. This is a convention of committed Democrats who want to win. Now, the New York Times had a poll today of delegates and only five percent said they still don't support Obama. Forty-three percent said they'd vote for him in a roll call; about the same as the 42 percent who said they'd vote for her. Fifteen percent haven't decided yet.

But the question here is not about these delegates; it's about voters as a whole. And a big part of what Obama has to do at this convention is convince Democrats to vote for him. I mean, right now Democrats have a ten-point lead in party identification over Republicans. He just has to make sure to get all those Democrats.

MONTAGNE: Well, those Democrats who say they won't vote for him and will vote for McCain, what are we talking about? Women, lower-income Democrats that went with Hillary Clinton. Exactly who is that?

ROBERTS: You know, well, that's a good question and the truth is everybody's focused on the women, but Barack Obama's doing very well among women. In fact, that's - his lead such as it is in the polls is because of his support from women. In the ABC poll, it was 55-37 among women Obama over McCain.

And similarly with lower income whites, he is leading among those. Less than $50,000 in the household, split 49-40 to Obama. His big problem is white Catholics, and there McCain is winning in the ABC poll with a 50-39 percent advantage and that's very, very significant, Renee. Because as white Catholics go, so goes the election. They tend to vote for the winner.

MONTAGNE: Enter Senator Joe Biden, vice presidential pick, white Catholic, also roots in a middle-class Pennsylvania family - might even call him working class. Will that help?

ROBERTS: Well, that's always the hope and that's certainly - on Obama's part - and that's certainly one of the reasons he picked him aside from foreign policy experience. You know, it won't hurt, but vice presidential picks generally don't do it in terms of convincing voters. So we'll see. Joe Biden will certainly do his best.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Cokie Roberts, thanks very much. And Cokie joined us from Denver where the Democratic National Convention opens today.

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