August 28, 2008

She Backed Obama – but Kept Her Options Open for Next Move

By David Usborne

THE MESSAGE from Hillary Clinton to supporters in Denver was as neon as the tangerine pantsuit she wore to the ball. All that she stood for during her historic quest to be America's first woman president - equal rights for women, universal health care and economic equality - Barack Obama stands for too. All doubts about the Clintons' intentions at the Democratic Party's convention are now dispelled.

Yesterday, the arena still reverberating from her speech on Tuesday night, Mrs Clinton met with her delegates and formally released them to Mr Obama. And last night, it was Bill Clinton's turn at the podium, to recall the prosperity of America under his stewardship but then to proclaim that the time now belongs to Mr Obama.

Whatever their private feelings, the Clintons are now publicly full-square behind the party's nominee. Even Bill Clinton has crossed into the daylight. As he was arriving in a skybox high in the Pepsi Centre, the former President was just in time to hear Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana ask the delegates who they wanted as their next president. "Barack Obama," they roared. And Bill said it too: "Barack Obama." And he did not hold his nose.

No one who spent any time with the Clintons back on the primary trail need strain too hard to imagine how hard the process of relinquishing the dream to Mr Obama must have been. Hillary came so close, after all, thanks to the now-almost mythical 18 million Americans - the 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling - who voted for her.

That she would use Denver to insist upon her delegates breaking their bonds to her and supporting Mr Obama was always on the cards. The disunity thing, a gift to the media used to conventions being more predictable, may have been overplayed. If he wins in November, she will be able to take some of the credit. If he loses, the party cannot turn on Hillary and Bill and place the blame on them.

The drama in Denver has been real because no one knew how compellingly the Clintons would pass their allegiance to Mr Obama. That mattered a great deal. Only on Tuesday, a poll in USA Today said that 16 per cent of Democrats who supported Mrs Clinton in the primaries intend to vote for John McCain in November.

Mr Obama needs that missing slither of the Democratic base. Mrs Clinton, of course, cannot tell every one of those voters which lever to pull. But in her speech on Tuesday, the appeal for her supporters to back Mr Obama was emphatic. "Barack Obama is my candidate. And he must be our president."

"That was excellent, that was a strong speech," Mr Obama declared after watching it on television in Billings, Montana. He telephoned Hillary to tell her so. And he telephoned Bill, too. But a rafter- rattling speech it was not quite. Even James Carville, the former aide to Bill and, as a commentator on CNN, a key Hillary cheerleader, seemed a bit bored half way through.

Mrs Clinton's punch faded for a while when she began listing the reasons she had run. While she referred to Mr Obama 10 times, the number of times she said "I" in the speech was double that number. She was a politician keeping the door open for new options. At one point she seemed to put her hand up for a place in an Obama cabinet, running health policy.

"I cannot wait to see Barack Obama sign into law a healthcare plan that covers every single American," she said. (That would be her plan for universal health care she was referring to, not Mr Obama's, which is a bit different.) But before it was too late, Mrs Clinton pivoted, declaring that the reasons that made her run had become the reasons she now supports Mr Obama. "Whether you voted for me or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite a single party with a single purpose. We are on the same team."

And raising the loudest laugh, she christened the women who backed her "my sisterhood of the travelling pantsuits".

The New York Senator demonstrated, moreover, her readiness now to play chief basher of John McCain. "No way. No how. No McCain," she said to loud cheers, before delivering a deft joke about how appropriate it is that Mr McCain and George Bush will be travelling to the "Twin Cities" of Minneapolis-St Paul next week for the Republican convention. "Because these days they're awfully hard to tell apart."

But, for now, quit she has, because she really had no choice and would have looked much worse under history's eye if she hadn't.


The Independent Focus Group

Today our focus group reflects on Hillary's 'heal the divide' speech and consider how it played for Barack Obama and the Democratic party, and whether the Republicans should be worried.

Mary Beth Ray, 48 Republican, Washington DC Lawyer and housewife

"Hillary rallied the troops, threw her support to Obama, gave a nod to Bill, Michelle and Joe, and threw a few punches at McCain. However, her fiery orange pantsuit spoke volumes. It's still all about her- her healthcare policies, her supporters, and maybe even her comeback in 2012."

Laura DeBusk, 37, Democrat, VirginiaHousewife

"While I have never been a Hillary fan, I thought she did a terrific job last night. She struck the right tone to help bring her voting block along. Personally, as an Obama supporter, I appreciated her performance and thought it hit all of the right notes."

Joseph McManus, 62, Republican, Washington DC Lawyer

"Words, words, words. Yes, she is a forceful speaker, and some say the Dems should have nominated her. I disagree, she has zero credibility with half the electorate. Does anyone believe her endorsement of Obama is motivated by anything other than preserving her viability as presidential material next time?"

Renee Van Vechten 39 Democrat, California Professor of political science

"Hillary's rousing speech had a lot of people wondering why she wasn't the nominee but rather than further dividing the party, she did what she set out to do: remind voters that the presidential campaign from this point on is about taking back the White House - not simply supporting a personal favourite."

(c) 2008 Independent, The; London (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.