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Clinton speech moves Democrats toward unity, but hasn't clinched it

Her words to the Democratic faithful Tuesday night are a first step, not an end point, toward bringing diehard Clinton fans around to Obama.

By Ariel SabarStaff writer / August 27, 2008

Hillary Rodham Clinton, on stage at the Democratic National Convention Tuesday with daughter Chelsea, acknowledges a sea of 'Hillary' signs borne by supporters.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

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Denver – Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said virtually all the right things in her speech at the Democratic National Convention Tuesday.

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She called Sen. Barack Obama "my candidate." She urged Democrats to unite as "a single party with a single purpose." And in a plea to her fiercest supporters, some of whom say they will vote for Republican John McCain over Senator Obama in November, she asked whether they were "in this campaign just for me" or for the good of Americans.

Again and again, the crowd inside the Pepsi Center here roared. Delegates hoisted official signs with "Hillary" on one side and "Unity" on the other. But were her words enough to heal a divided party?

Senator Clinton highlighted the goals she shared with the presumed Democratic nominee – to end the Iraq war, to fight inequality, to make healthcare universal. But she did not talk about Obama’s personal qualities. She grew animated when criticizing Senator McCain, the presumed Republican nominee. But at other times, she seemed measured and subdued, a degree or two short of the fire she often displayed on the campaign trail.

"I think she did what she had to do, but I didn't feel any enthusiasm," Richard Corriveau, a Michigan lawyer and convention guest who voted for Clinton in the primaries, said as he left the Pepsi Center. He said he would vote for Obama this fall "reluctantly," because while he opposes McCain he still feels Obama is "more ego than substance."

Diane Mantouvalos, a founder of justsaynodeal.com, a prominent blog for Clinton diehards critical of the nomination process, said she watched the speech in a Denver hotel suite with a group of supporters who were in tears.

"What it did was it reminded us how incredibly strong a candidate she still is on that stage," Ms. Mantouvalos said.

Even so, Clinton appeared to give at least some of her most loyal admirers pause.

Will Bower, a co-founder of PUMA, a strident pro-Clinton group, said the speech did not change his mind about Obama but yielded second thoughts about his earlier decision to back McCain.

"I'm committed to not voting for Obama," he said in a phone interview. "But Hillary's speech reminded me that I'm not a Republican and I'm not excited about voting Republican. Tonight reminded me that I am still a Democrat at heart."

If nothing else, the 23-minute speech was another step forward for Democrats after a bitter nomination fight that pitted the strongest black presidential candidate in American history against the strongest female one. Many voters – particularly older and working-class women – saw Clinton as the embodiment of their highest personal and civic aspirations.

So divisive were the primaries that recent polls have found that just half of those who backed Clinton in the primaries say they will definitely back Obama this fall. Winning over those disaffected voters remains one of the Democrats' chief challenges, and McCain has made clear in remarks and in TV ads that he will make a strong play for them.

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