Hillary Clinton's die-hard supporters are causing another stir in the run-up to the Democratic National Convention.
Barack Obama and party leaders have been trying to foster a sense of unity as the Illinois senator moves toward formally securing the Democratic presidential nomination at the convention, which starts August 25 in Denver. But Clinton's supporters refuse to fade away, and some think she could still win the party's nod with a last-minute campaign to elbow Obama aside.
Clinton backers are planning a demonstration in Denver on the second night of the gathering, when she is expected to speak. That's also the 88th anniversary of women's suffrage. But the Clinton movement doesn't stop there. Some of her backers want a roll-call vote to demonstrate her support; she got 18 million votes in the primaries but fell short of overtaking Obama in the delegate race. Hillary loyalists, including those at PUMA (Party Unity My Ass), hope they can persuade a few hundred Obama delegates to switch and turn the tide.
This isn't likely, because Obama's supporters seem just as committed to him as Clinton's are to her. But party leaders are concerned that the Hillary rebels will reopen old wounds and reignite the debate over whether she was treated fairly by Obama and the media as the first woman to be a serious presidential contender. Such a split could lead to an embarrassing mess in Denver just when Obama needs all the positive vibrations he can generate. He holds a slim lead over Republican John McCain nationally in the opinion polls.
While her loyalists continue to beat the war drums, Clinton appears to be making peace. She has agreed to participate in a rally for Obama in Nevada Friday and to appear at another event for him in Florida August 21. They held two joint fundraisers in New York last month.
Shortly after conceding the race, Clinton endorsed Obama, and last night they issued a joint statement again pledging unity. "We are working together to make sure the fall campaign and the convention are a success," they said in their announcement. "At the Democratic convention, we will ensure that the voices of everyone who participated in this historic process are respected and our party will be fully unified heading into the November election."
But the statement did little to diminish the ardor of the Hillary die-hards. They argue that she hasn't been given the respect she deserves even though Obama has apparently agreed to give her a coveted primetime speaking slot August 26 and he has been quite conciliatory. On Sunday, he endorsed the seating of the full delegations from Florida and Michigan, which had violated party rules by holding their primaries too early. Party leaders had penalized them, but Obama is now asking that the penalties be lifted. Clinton won both contests, although neither she nor Obama campaigned actively in the two states.
For their part, some Obama backers consider the hard-line Hillary supporters to be sore losers. "What usually happens is, if you lose, you go silent for a while," says an Obama strategist. "But Hillary's supporters haven't gone silent. They're still out there in the news."
"They went negative on us (in the primaries)," he adds. "But we didn't fight fire with fire. It could've been scorched earth, but that's not where our guy is."
Now, the Obama team's patience is being tested again, Obama advisers say. One particular problem is Bill Clinton's apparent reluctance to campaign publicly for Obama. The former president's role at the convention remains unclear.