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Hillary's clout is key at Democratic Convention

If she signals ambivalence, some supporters could stay home this fall.

By Ariel SabarStaff writer / August 25, 2008

Still faithful: Clinton supporters came together Sunday at a Denver eatery to screen a documentary critical of Obama.

Mary Knox Merrill – Staff

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Denver – The chances of a Democratic victory this fall may well turn on what Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton says in her prime time speech at the Democratic National Convention here Tuesday.

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If she pleads with the 18 million Americans who voted for her to bury the hatchet and get behind Barack Obama, Democrats may regain the White House. If she signals the slightest ambivalence, enough of her supporters may stay home – or vote for GOP rival John McCain – to cost Democrats the race.

For Senator Obama, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Voter surveys show a tightening race with Senator McCain. In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last week, just one of two voters who supported Senator Clinton in the primaries say they now back Obama.

The McCain campaign sought to exploit the party’s internal rifts Sunday with a TV ad questioning Obama’s choice of Sen. Joseph Biden as vice president. “She won millions of votes but isn’t on his ticket,” a female narrator intones in the ad called “Passed Over,” referring to Clinton. “Why?”

Denver is abuzz this week with die-hard Clinton supporters planning protests, rallies, and celebrations that will culminate with a march on Tuesday, the 88th anniversary of the day the 19th Amendment granted women voting rights.

“Hillary supporters are still very upset with the party, very upset with the media, very upset with the process, to the point where I think millions of them will not vote for Obama in November,” says Darragh Murphy, the founder of PUMA PAC, a pro-Clinton political action committee that claims 10,000 members and is planning a series of events here.

The protests come in a week meant to showcase party unity and follow three months of overtures from the Obama campaign. The Illinois senator gave Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, prominent speaking roles at the convention. The Democratic platform this year is expected to include language condemning “demeaning portrayals of women,” a response to women’s groups who felt that a sexist news media cost Clinton the nomination.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) on Sunday backed Obama’s recent request to restore full convention voting rights to delegates from Michigan and Florida. Those states voted for Clinton but had been punished for holding early primaries in violation of party rules.

Perhaps most significantly, Obama agreed to put Clinton’s nomination to a roll-call vote on the convention floor Wednesday, a symbolic gesture of recognition for her hard-fought candidacy.

Clinton has said that that vote would give her supporters the emotional release they need to unify behind Obama and has squelched suggestions of any secret plans to revive her candidacy.

“I know from just what I’m hearing, that there’s incredible pent-up desire,” she said at a California fundraiser last month. “And I think that people want to feel like, ‘OK, it’s a catharsis, we’re here, we did it,’ and then everybody get behind Senator Obama.”