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Can't quash the Clinton faithful

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton greets members of the New York delegation Monday at the Pepsi Center. “Work as hard for Barack Obama as you worked for me,” she told the Hispanic caucus.

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Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton greets members of the New York delegation Monday at the Pepsi Center. “Work as hard for Barack Obama as you worked for me,” she told the Hispanic caucus.

DENVER — This isn't going to be easy.

Even as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, vanquished nominee, marked the opening day of the Democratic National Convention by diving headlong into her role as a top ambassador for Sen. Barack Obama, it remained far from certain that Democrats will leave town Friday much more unified than they were when they arrived Monday.

Polls continue to show that as many as one of four Clinton supporters don't plan to vote for Obama for president, and several pro-Clinton groups, including 18 Million Voices, are planning a march and rally in downtown Denver today. Hillary Clinton buttons are nearly as popular as Obama-wear among delegates and party activists here.

"I'd love to think that Hillary supporters will be able to support Obama without hesitation, but for a lot of Hillary supporters I've heard, they're very reluctant," said Tyler Clendenin, 27, a web developer from Tampa and a member of the convention rules committee who wore both Clinton and Obama buttons.

At a gathering of the Clinton-friendly National Hispanic Caucus on Monday morning, Clinton warned that Sen. John McCain and the Republican Party were trying to exploit the rift "to divide us, divert us from what's really at stake."

Indeed, McCain campaign workers passed out fliers downtown Monday inviting people to a "Happy Hour for Hillary" at a local cafe.

His campaign also began airing a TV spot that features a woman named Debra Bartoshevich saying she is a "proud Hillary Clinton Democrat" who plans to back McCain because "now he's the one with experience and judgment."

"A lot of Democrats will vote McCain," she says in the ad. "It's okay, really."

As the convention opened with the theme "One Nation," Clinton and other top Democrats were making the rounds among delegates to convince them that no, it's not okay. Clinton is scheduled to address the convention tonight, when she'll make a prime-time pitch for unity.

On Wednesday, Clinton will hold a meeting with her delegates (whose number nearly equals that of Obama), where she is likely to release them so they can pledge their support for Obama.

That evening, her husband, former President Bill Clinton, is scheduled to speak.

Yet even her appearances around Denver — where she's dipping in and out of meetings with Democratic activists to preach the gospel of Obama — seemed to highlight the division, rather than the solidarity.

Consider the Hispanic Caucus meeting, where she drove the crowd wild with a surprise visit before lunch.

The members, representing Hispanics from Florida to California, drowned out her introduction with applause and chants of "Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!" and refused to sit when she launched into the reasons they should vote for the Democratic nominee: from health care to the environment, Obama would best represent their interests, not McCain.

"So I am asking you, those of you who supported me, I would be forever grateful if you work as hard for Barack Obama as you worked for me," she said.

Cheers followed. Along with more chants of "Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!"

Wes Allison can be reached at allison@sptimes.com or (202) 463-0577.

Can't quash the Clinton faithful 08/25/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 26, 2008 4:24pm]
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