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Deal keeps roll call out of limelight

In a bid for unity, the Obama camp agrees to a traditional vote. But it's a shortened version outside of prime time.

August 28, 2008|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — The moment belonged to Hillary Rodham Clinton. It was New York's turn to cast its vote for the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. Amid a wave of cheers, Clinton took the microphone to bring the roll-call vote to an end, an act that would officially make her one-time rival the winner.

"Let's declare together in one voice -- right here, right now -- that Barack Obama is our candidate, and he will be our president," Clinton told raucous delegates in the Pepsi Center.

So ended Clinton's 2008 presidential bid.

Wednesday's roll call proved to be a tricky bit of theater.

Since the convention opened Monday, party leaders have wanted to project an image of unity. And while there was no suspense as to the roll call's outcome -- Clinton quit the race more than two months ago and had endorsed Obama -- both campaigns wanted to signal to her supporters that the bitter primary fight had reached a fair end.

The traditional convention hall vote of delegates was one way to do just that -- and the negotiations over precisely how it would unfold played out right up until the roll call.

Clinton seemed intent on giving her supporters a vehicle to vent their frustrations over her failed candidacy, a moment, she said, of "catharsis."

Obama campaign aides worried that a televised state-by-state roll call -- with Clinton picking up a large share of delegate votes -- might give the impression of internal feuding.

A compromise emerged, with the Obama camp agreeing to a roll call, but before prime-time television coverage and in an abbreviated form.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat who supported Clinton during the primary season, said in an interview that Obama's campaign had "the veto pen on this . . . it's entirely up to them."

So after 32 states and U.S. territories had announced their tallies, Clinton, the junior senator from New York, asked party delegates to declare Obama the nominee by acclamation -- sending a message to her supporters that the fight was truly over.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) quickly put the motion to a vote. After an approving chorus, she asked for any "no" votes but left no time for delegates to register an objection. Just like that, Obama became the nominee.

Even stalwart Obama supporters were impressed by Clinton's gesture.

"It felt amazing," said Molly Lombardi, 36, a community organizer from New York City. "She did an incredible job. I was sitting with all my Obama organizer friends, and we were all crying. This is a turning point. She struck a blow for unity."

Sylvia Philippe, a 36-year-old New York delegate from Brooklyn who had supported Clinton, said: "Wow, I'm excited, exasperated, all sorts of different feelings going on inside me. I'm happy she conceded. But it was bittersweet. I have more respect for her because she was graceful and came to terms with Barack Obama as the nominee."

After the primaries ended in June, Obama led Clinton by less than 10% in the delegate count. Yet when the roll call was stopped, he was ahead by an 82% to 18% margin. Many delegates Clinton won during the primaries had peeled off, voting Wednesday for the person they knew to be the eventual nominee.

Massachusetts, for example -- a state that Clinton won during the primaries -- announced it had allotted 13 more delegates for Obama than for Clinton.

The campaigns' haggling over the mechanics of the roll call left some Clinton delegates confused about what to do.

Californian Steve Maviglio said he cast his vote for Clinton on Wednesday morning, but he was not clear if that's what she wanted.

"We were not given any instructions by the Obama or Clinton campaigns on how to vote," Maviglio said. "I was selected as a Clinton delegate. Until someone tells me otherwise, that's the way I'm voting."

It was not until later in the day that Clinton formally announced she was releasing her delegates. She summoned them to a meeting at the convention center and urged them to vote for anyone they wanted.

"I am here today to release you as my delegates," she told a roomful of supporters, many sporting "Hillary" buttons and waving Clinton campaign signs.

She added: "I signed my ballot this morning for Sen. Obama. But a lot of other people who are signing their ballots have made a different choice.

"What is so important is that at the end of today, we will nominate Barack Obama and Joe Biden for the president and vice president of the United States."

Times staff writer Robin Abcarian contributed to this report.



Main stage

During the roll call vote, Democratic delegates seized the opportunity to promote their home states. Here are some remarks:


The great state of California, home to the most dynamic, diverse and talented people, home to a magnificent environment, home to the world's greatest agricultural, high-tech and entertainment communities, and home to the brave firefighters and service members who keep us safe . . .


Louisiana, home of gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish pie and also shrimp . . .


The great state of Montana, that stretches from the golden prairies of the eastern end of our state to the Rocky Mountains to the west that form the backbone of the continental divide from the nation's oldest national park, Yellowstone, and the proud jewel of our park system, Glacier Park to the north . . .


From the snow-capped, majestic Rocky Mountain peaks to the high plains with amber waves of grain . . .

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