Clinton supporters still hanging back

DENVER — Mary Kaye Jiloty sat in the back of the room for the morning meeting of the Florida delegates at the Red Lion Hotel, wearing a Hillary Rodham Clinton button and a pained expression. This is her first Democratic National Convention, and she expects it will be her last.

The 56-year-old middle-school Spanish teacher from Ormond Beach is a delegate for the former first lady. But it will be Barack Obama who accepts the Democratic nomination for president Thursday night. Jiloty, like many other women who supported Clinton, has yet to come to grips with the idea of embracing Obama for president.

"I just don't feel that being welcomed,'' she said. "It's been more, 'You better come on board or else.' "

The tension between the Obama and Clinton camps is the subplot of this convention, stoked by the media with little else to blog about and Republicans with too much time on their hands before their convention next week. Clinton gave a very warm speech to wild applause Tuesday night and said all of the right things. Former President Bill Clinton is to speak tonight, and the roll call vote could provide some intrigue depending upon how many Clinton votes are cast and how much noise her supporters make.

Old Democratic hands, from former Sen. Bob Graham to Broward Democratic Party chairman Mitch Ceasar, downplay the divisions and the potential for any lasting harm. But opinion polls suggest a different story. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows just two-thirds of Clinton's supporters in the primary back Obama now, and 27 percent say they will vote for McCain. For Obama, those numbers have to get a lot better by November.

That means winning over voters such as Jiloty, one of six sisters who was looking forward to helping elect the first woman president.

"It would have been quite a moment,'' she said. "Quite a moment.''

This is Jiloty's first foray into national politics. A longtime fan of Sen. Clinton, she started making phone calls to learn about becoming a convention delegate as soon as it became clear the former first lady would be running for president. She attended a workshop for delegates sponsored by the state party. Over her Christmas break, she spent 10 cold days in Iowa as a Clinton volunteer, driving around Clinton surrogates and making telephone calls.

But a campaign season that began with so much excitement for Jiloty now has left her somewhat disillusioned. She did not like the way the national party punished Florida and Michigan for moving up their primary elections, even though Florida's full delegation has prime seats now in the Pepsi Center. She is still upset over some of the primary campaign attacks on Clinton. And now she does not feel Clinton and her supporters are being treated with the proper respect by the Obama camp.

Jiloty wants to vote for Clinton during the roll call tonight but is waiting to hear Clinton speak to her committed delegates today and for the negotiations between the two camps to play out. After all, she points out, Clinton received more than 38,000 votes in her congressional district. She feels an obligation to those voters to see it through.

After this week, though, Jiloty is done. She does not plan to be an active volunteer in the general election campaign. There will be no Obama bumper sticker on her car. And she does not expect to attend another national political convention.

Clinton told reporters this week she will continue to make the case for Democrats to come together and back Obama. She predicted that after voters examine the policy differences between Obama and Republican John McCain, Democrats will rally behind the Illinois senator.

"People have perhaps different paths to get there,'' Clinton said, "but we will be united.''

Jiloty isn't there yet.

Will she vote in November?

"I don't know."

Will she vote for Obama?

She won't commit, but notes she signed a loyalty oath not to oppose the party nominee or support his opponent.

Will she vote for McCain?

"I don't want to go there — yet.''

Tim Nickens' e-mail address is nickens@sptimes.com.

Clinton supporters still hanging back 08/26/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 29, 2008 3:26pm]

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