As party leaders look to heal the Democrats' lingering primary battle wounds from the podium, Sen. Hillary Clinton's staff has coordinated a floor team to quash anti-Obama disturbances in the convention hall tonight and help the party present a united front.
Clinton's "whip team," led by longtime staffer Craig Smith, is approximately 40 members strong, composed of both Clinton and Obama delegates working in coordination with convention floor volunteers. The teams are dispatched to answer delegate questions, ensure that the appropriate signs are displayed and generally avoid any potentially embarrassing spontaneous expressions of opinion.
In a meeting earlier today, whips were coached on how to keep protests to a minimum and told to spread the word to anyone in their states who might cause trouble by yelling out or making a scene that they should"not embarass" Sen Clinton with their actions.
On the delegate floor, they will be handing out "Hillary" signs for the beginning of Clinton's speech, but later will hand out "unity" signs and encourage everyone in the hall to wave them.
Clinton's Release of Delegates
All of the whips were also told to invite all Clinton delegates -- a number in June that ran about 1700, though it's unclear how those numbers have changed -- to a 1:15pm meeting tomorrow with Clinton at the Colorado Convention Center
One Clinton whip said they've known for about a week what the rough plan is for tomorrow's roll call vote, but that they've been sworn to secrecy. Clinton will describe the plan at tomorrow's meeting and ask her delegates to fall in line with the party's plan for unity.
Clinton whip and former Colorado State Sen. Stan Matsunaka said he was approached by the Clinton campaign approximately three weeks ago about being on the team.
Matsunaka says his role is to make sure "no one embarrasses anybody and at the end of the day we all unite behind Sen. Obama."
Whips: 'Normal Operating Procedure'
He sees nothing out of the ordinary about Clinton's whip team -- calling it part of "normal operating procedure" at the convention -- the only difference being that this go around the Clintons aren't in charge.
Kathleen Strand, a spokeswoman for the New York senator, said the idea for the team was a "collaborative decision between the Clinton and Obama operations to ensure a successful and smooth process on the floor."
For Clinton's most steadfast supporters, the months-long primary battle still lingers with frustration. When the New York senator and former first lady takes the stage tonight, for many it will be in a role much diminished from the one they thought she would have this week.
Clinton Loyalists Won't Back Down
The Clinton loyalists are visibly on display in Denver. Many still display Clinton campaign paraphernalia with unabashed pride, occasionally complaining at the souvenir stands that the New York senator's likeness isn't available alongside the Democratic National Convention's official Obama-Biden merchandise.
Marvin Wells, a 43-year-old delegate, said the convention organizers have ignored the fact that Clinton lost the primary by a narrow margin and treats Clinton supporters "like they don't exist."
In years past, signage distribution at conventions was not coordinated with the precision of a ballet, as it is today, and convention floor whips held roles of significant power, influencing political factions and votes. But now the whips are more about the tone in the room and the visuals on the screen, and as Strand said, bettering "communication and accessibility on the floor."
Strand said the whip team, which first met Monday morning, includes "familiar faces" within Democratic circles, such as state delegation members who, in some cases, have been assigned to shepherd more than one state.
On Monday night, the whips also helped circulate petitions among the delegates allowing for both Clinton and Obama's names to be placed in nomination.
The Push for a Floor Vote
"There's no question there's been a changing of the guard," Matsunaka says, something that was reflected during the primaries and the caucuses.
And if you ask, most of them can recall with exacting precision how many votes in their respective states were cast for Hillary Clinton during one of the most hotly contested primary seasons in modern times.
Derick Hill, with the Guam delegation, is pushing for a floor vote that will allow Clinton voters to express their preference, even though the nomination is Obama's.
Clinton delegates "have to give their vote to represent those who voted for Clinton," Hill said. It is necessary to "be heard and be counted."
Open to Obama?
Still, most of the Clinton delegates said they are not standing in opposition to Obama. But there are some who are not so certain.
Wells said he's not sure if he'll vote for the Democratic ticket. in November. "It's not impossible," he said.
Wells said he's waiting to hear Obama speak to the convention Thursday. He wants to hear Obama say something that will "make me want to vote for him."
Per Colorado rules, Matsunaka plans on voting for Obama once Clinton releases her delegates tomorrow afternoon.
"Once she releases me from my commitment, I can vote for Obama," he says. "I'm hers until she says I'm not.
Texas delegate Ruby De LaGarza said Clinton's appearance at the Hispanic caucus Monday morning, where she encouraged her supporters to "do the same for Obama" made a difference and will yield true party unity.
A spokesman from the Clinton campaign has emphasized that in her speech tonight, the New York senator will express appreciation for her supporters but focus on the stakes in the November general election.