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CAMPAIGN '08: THE DEMOCRATS

Denver air did Obama camp good

He sees an unusually large jump in support after the carefully choreographed event in Denver. Crucial to it all were the Clintons.

August 30, 2008|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — Amy Pearl is the sort of Democrat who made the Barack Obama campaign nervous. A volunteer who ran Hillary Rodham Clinton's Palo Alto campaign office during the primary season, she had doubted Obama's experience and arrived at the Democratic convention here unsure how she would vote in November.

She left town Friday with her mind made up: She is for Obama.

For all the glitter of a convention that literally ended in fireworks, the Obama campaign's mission was a simple one: winning over the Amy Pearls. Obama entered the convention as the nominal head of a Democratic Party cleaved into factions -- one devoted to him, another to Clinton. The four-day convention was his best chance before election day to cement the two halves into a coalition that would serve as a durable and expanded political base.

Republican John McCain seemed eager to peel off aggrieved Clinton supporters with his choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. But various women's groups and Clinton loyalists said Friday that the Palin pick wouldn't spur defections.

"Gov. Palin and John McCain are a good match because they both want to overturn Roe v. Wade, they both want to continue the failed economic policies of the Bush administration, and they both offer more of the same," said Ellen Malcolm, president of EMILY's List, which works to elect female Democratic candidates and endorsed Clinton in the primaries.

Buoyed by new poll results, Democrats wrapped up the convention feeling better about their prospects.

"We're going to beat the hell out of 'em in November!" exclaimed Don Fowler, a former Democratic National Committee chairman who backed Clinton during the primaries.

On the convention's most important night, Obama could not have asked for a bigger audience. Apart from the more than 84,000 spectators who watched him accept the nomination Thursday in a football stadium, the television audience smashed records. More than 38 million people saw him deliver his speech on TV, apparently a new high, according to Nielsen Media Research.

By the convention's end, the Gallup daily tracking poll showed Obama had taken a race that was dead even and built an 8-point lead. The margin could grow when the polling data account for everyone who saw the speech.

Obama's bounce exceeds that of his most recent predecessor. Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry lost a point after his nominating convention in 2004. The average post-convention bump for Democratic candidates since 1964 is 6.2 points, according to the nonpartisan publication National Journal.

Mending divisions in Denver was a feat of stagecraft, choreography and delicate ego-management. Crucial to the project was the Clinton family.

In the end, both Sen. Clinton and former President Bill Clinton cooperated with the Obama team. But former associates of Bill Clinton said he was initially unhappy with the speech assignment the campaign gave him. He was asked to talk about national security when he wanted the focus to be the economy. His wound up delivering a speech that touched on both.

One Clinton aide said Friday that the Obama campaign made no effort to force a single topic on the former president -- and that it would have been useless in any case. "People who understand him know he'll say whatever he wants to say," the aide said. "He will never give a speech on just one topic. Ever."

Despite his palpable disappointment over his wife's defeat, Clinton made it clear that he wanted Obama to win: "Last night Hillary told us in no uncertain terms she is going to do everything she can to elect Barack Obama," Clinton said Wednesday. "That makes two of us."

A convention meant to showcase Obama could have gotten wildly sidetracked by the roll call vote that played out Wednesday. Hillary Clinton had wanted her name entered into nomination. A roll call could have underscored the intra-party feuding. But Clinton aides said they yielded to the Obama campaign in the mechanics of the vote. It was cut off after 32 states and territories had weighed in, so as not to prolong the image of a party divided.

The capstone was when Clinton herself moved to end the voting and make Obama the nominee by acclamation. "Hillary moving for acclamation just put the Good Housekeeping stamp of approval on the whole thing," Fowler said.

Pearl, the Clinton volunteer from the Palo Alto area, said one consideration was especially important to her: Clinton's treatment at the convention. She didn't want to see Clinton disrespected.

On the final day of the convention, Pearl sent an e-mail to Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean. She thanked him for working to give Clinton's "campaign and accomplishments full expression."

"It totally worked. I told you it would create more unity than trying to force unity by ignoring the divisions!" she wrote.

Dean wrote back in an e-mail: "I never had any doubt that Hillary would do what she did. She is a true star, putting the country ahead of herself."

Not all Clinton supporters are appeased. Reports are circulating that some state delegations browbeat Clinton delegates into voting for Obama. Asked if some delegates felt that kind of pressure, Olivia Anne Morris Fuchs, a Kentucky delegate who backed Clinton, said, "Absolutely."

But others are prepared to let the long fight end.

Lorraine Hariton, a Clinton delegate, said: "There are various stages in the grief process. I'm at a place where I've moved on and realized how important it is for us to win the White House and go on."

--

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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