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On the first day of the Democratic National Convention, Sen. Hillary Clinton said, "We are united and we are together and we are determined." Her speech Tuesday will set a tone for party unity — or disunity.
On the first day of the Democratic National Convention, Sen. Hillary Clinton said, "We are united and we are together and we are determined." Her speech Tuesday will set a tone for party unity — or disunity. Max Whittaker/Getty Images
When Hillary Clinton strikes her first podium pose Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention, she'll do so knowing that almost half of the people staring at her wanted her to be the party's presidential nominee. And somewhat more than half preferred Barack Obama.
How she speaks to both groups will set a tone for unity, or disunity, as the party points toward the November election.
Ever since it became obvious that Hillary Clinton did not have enough delegates to be nominated, Democrats have been wondering if she would throw her full support behind Obama. So far, she — and her husband, former President Bill Clinton — have sent enough wavy signals that their support for Obama has been questioned.
Her protracted concession brings to mind a similar primary battle in 1980 between incumbent President Jimmy Carter and Sen. Ted Kennedy. Carter got more delegates, but Kennedy ignored the inevitable right up until the convention. He finally conceded several days before they appeared together at New York's Madison Square Garden. Kennedy was visibly ambivalent about the nominee.
The Republicans capitalized on the divided Democrats, and Ronald Reagan easily won the election.
Spreading Unity To The Campaign?
This time around, Clinton conceded defeat in June. When the two Democratic rivals appeared in the carefully chosen town of Unity, N.H., she told her supporters that they should vote for Obama rather than Republican opponent John McCain. But she has still not released her delegates, and her campaign lobbied to have her name placed in nomination.
Obama closed the door on her White House hopes this year by selecting Joe Biden as his vice presidential candidate. Still, some of her supporters keep on hanging on.
Connie Kafka, for instance, has come to Denver from Wyoming to cheer on the runner-up. Clinton, she says, "has been under incredible pressure" from the party's national committee to support Obama. After all, she adds, "Hillary won the popular vote" — though that's only true if some caucus states Obama won are not counted and disputed primaries are.
According to a recent USA Today/Gallup Poll, 30 percent of Clinton supporters nationwide do not plan to vote for Obama.
Raining On Obama's Parade
In Denver, the die-hards wear T-shirts that read, "Only Hillary Gets My Vote." They are fueled by Web sites such as Puma PAC and Just Say No Deal. They plan to stage several pro-Clinton events, including a candlelight vigil and march.
On a recent evening, a klatch of the Clinton faithful met at the snazzy Fuel Cafe on the outskirts of downtown Denver. All in all, there were more than 50 people snacking on hors d'oeuvres and drinking from the bar.
"Obama is unelectable," said Kafka, who has been voting for Democrats since she registered 38 years ago. "There is no way I will vote for any ticket with Obama's name on it. I will vote for John McCain instead."
She is still hoping for a miracle. "My dream scenario," she said, "is that every delegate would stand up for her and she will be the nominee."
Carol Anderson of Vancouver, Wash., is another never-say-die Clintonite. Obama, she says, suffers from hubris. His plan to deliver his acceptance speech at the 70,000-plus seat Invesco Field "is so ostentatious. He's so arrogant."
She is hoping for bad weather. "I wouldn't mind if it rained on his parade," she said.
Clinton Expresses Determination
Monday morning, Clinton spoke to the New York state delegation at a breakfast in Denver. She urged her followers to move forward. "We were not all on the same side as Democrats, but we are now," she said. "We are united and we are together and we are determined."
Clinton spokesperson Kathleen Strand told The Associated Press that the New York senator's "support of Barack Obama is clear. She has said repeatedly that Barack Obama and she share a commitment to changing the direction of the country, getting us out of Iraq and expanding access to health care."
The delegates committed to Clinton will meet with the candidate at a reception Wednesday, where she is likely to release them, the AP reports. And Obama's campaign played down the idea that Clinton's supporters are divisive. Obama, meanwhile, is on his way to Denver, making stops in battleground states along the way.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.