Hillary Clinton Arrives In Denver

Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had breakfast this morning with the New York delegation in Denver. Democrats are gathering there this week to nominate Barack Obama for president, something that still rankles many Clinton supporters.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

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And I'm Melissa Block.

In Denver, the speeches, tributes and fanfare are getting underway. Throughout the week, much focus will be on Barack Obama's personal story as he reintroduces himself to voters. There's also the matter of party unity. Obama beat Hillary Clinton for the nomination in a long and bruising primary season.

Clinton has endorsed Obama, campaigned for him and called on her supporters to back him, but some are still reluctant. In a few minutes, we'll hear from one of Senator Clinton's most prominent supporters, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.

First, NPR's Robert Smith reports on Clinton's first public appearance at the convention.

ROBERT SMITH: When the New York delegates got together for breakfast this morning, there were eggs, bacon and a big heaping serving of regret.

Ms. BARBARA FIELLE(ph): They're disappointed. The strong Hillary supporters are disappointed.

SMITH: Barbara Fielle is one of those Clinton delegates and a county executive from Upstate New York. She's been in politics a long time and says she'll get over it and support Barack Obama. But she warns that other delegates are waiting to see what Clinton has to say.

Ms. FIELLE: She'll set the tone for her delegates. I'm assuming they're looking forward to is, going to be a very, very positive speech.

SMITH: Sort of. Today, Clinton didn't give her delegates from her home state of New York much guidance about what to do at the convention.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Good morning.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SMITH: Clinton was upbeat. She said that four more years of a Republican in the White House would be disastrous. And she stressed how important it was to elect Barack Obama as president. But she did this while never actually praising Obama. And she acknowledged that there was still work to do to unify the party.

Sen. CLINTON: We are, after all, Democrats, so it may take awhile.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. CLINTON: You know, we're not the fall-in-line party. We're diverse, many voices. But make no mistake, we are united.

SMITH: Not according to the polls. A new USA Today/Gallup poll has less than half of Hillary Clinton supporters committed to vote for Obama. And that split in the party is being exploited gleefully by John McCain's campaign. Today, they released an ad featuring a Democrat, Debra Bartoshevich.

(Soundbite of John McCain's political ad)

Ms. DEBRA BARTOSHEVICH (Former Hillary Clinton Delegate): I'm a proud Hillary Clinton Democrat. She had the experience and judgment to be president. Now, in a first for me, I'm supporting a Republican - John McCain.

SMITH: The ad was the talk of the breakfast this morning, and Clinton couldn't help responding.

Sen. CLINTON: Now, I understand that the McCain campaign is running ads trying to divide us. I'm Hillary Clinton and I do not approve that message.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SMITH: The joke helped ease some tension in a delegation still split between Obama and Clinton. But Clinton's speech was more notable for what it did not contain. Clinton didn't urge her delegates to vote for Barack Obama during the roll call at the convention. In fact, afterwards, she told reporters that people will have to make up their own minds.

Delegate, Barbara Fielle says that she will vote for Clinton on the first ballot no matter what.

Ms. FIELLE: She deserves, you know, that there's loyalty. She worked very hard. She got a tremendous amount of support in votes. And I just feel that, you know, this is the closest a woman has come and I just want to be a part of that.

SMITH: Just expect the McCain campaign to be ready to exploit any sort of boisterous demonstration for Clinton. Tonight, the Republicans are hosting a happy hour for disaffected Clinton supporters - free drinks and all the John McCain bumper stickers you can grab.

Robert Smith, NPR News, Denver.

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