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Obama's challenge: What role for the Clintons?

A roll-call vote for Hillary Clinton at the convention would be 'cathartic,' she says. Then there's Bill.

By / August 10, 2008

Team player? Senator Clinton signed autographs after campaigning for presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama in Henderson, Nev., Friday.

Jae C. Hong/AP

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Washington - The national political conventions, it is often said, have become nothing more than infomercials. And if the Democratic Party has its way, the 2008 convention in Denver will be just that: a four-day, future-focused love-fest centered on the theme of change.

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But with just two weeks to go before the opening bell, presumptive nominee Barack Obama is still grappling with how to handle the biggest power couple of the Democratic Party – Hillary and Bill Clinton. Both have now secured prime-time speaking slots during the convention, she on Tuesday night, Aug. 26, as keynote speaker, he the next night, right before the still-unnamed vice presidential candidate.

The trickier issue for Senator Obama may be how to appease Senator Clinton's supporters, many of whom remain sorely disappointed that she lost the close nomination race and feel she has been treated unfairly. Now that it is clear she will not be Obama's running mate, given her speaking assignment, conversations between the Obama and Clinton camps center on whether Clinton's name will be placed in nomination during the first round of delegate voting. The idea would be to allow Clinton delegates the satisfaction of voting for her – the first woman to come close to winning a major-party presidential nomination – before they fall in line and vote for Obama.

"There's this notion she didn't get fair media coverage, and now on top of that, there's this notion she didn't get fair treatment from Obama, assuming he picks somebody else" as his running mate, says Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida in Tampa. "So from the perspective of her supporters, this may be the only element of fairness that can be injected into the whole process – allowing her supporters to have a chance to vote for her in the roll call."

Ms. MacManus believes it would be smart for Obama to welcome such a vote, allowing Clinton delegates and supporters the "catharsis" they want and allowing them to move on and work for the Obama ticket. "The last thing you need is disgruntled delegates, because they're the ones who need to go home and do all the get-out-the-vote work," she says.

Several important swing states – beginning with Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania – are rich with older, female, and working-class voters who went heavily for Clinton in the primaries and whom Obama has struggled to attract in general-election polls against the likely Republican candidate, John McCain.