Sen. Hillary Clinton Seeks Democratic Convention Voice

Dems push "unity"; Clinton not dismissing putting name up for convention vote.


Aug. 7, 2008 — -- In an online chat today on her Web site, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton assured supporters that she and Sen. Barack Obama are committed to making the party "fully unified heading into the November election."

Obama clinched the Democratic presidential nomination after a bruising primary battle with Clinton. Both Democrats have since sought to publicly ease tensions between the campaigns.

As Democrats near the Aug. 25 start date of their party convention, Clinton acknowledged in her chat that "excitement and curiosity is certainly starting to build" but that "no decisions have been made yet."

Clinton said, "I will make sure that we keep you up to date and involved with all of the convention activity."

Flying from Minneapolis to Chicago, Obama described working with Clinton's staff as "seamless".

Asked whether or not entering Clinton's name into nomination would heal party rifts, Obama said, "I don't think we're looking for catharsis. I think what we're looking for is energy and excitement about the prospects of changing this country."

Obama provided no further detail on Clinton's convention activities, stating only that "it is getting worked out by our staffs" and stressing their shared enthusiasm "for a unified party".

Asked whether or not her name would be placed into nomination at the convention, Clinton did not rule out the possibility and said, "Senator Obama and I share the goal of ensuring that the voices of everyone who participated in this historic process are respected."

Clinton's Thursday Web chat follows remarks she made to a gathering of supporters last week during which the New York senator said she's looking for a "strategy" for her delegates to have their voices heard and "respected" at the Democratic National Convention.

"I happen to believe that we will come out stronger if people feel that their voices were heard and their views were respected. I think that is a very big part of how we actually come out unified," Clinton said at a California fundraiser last Thursday, in a video clip captured by an attendee and posted on YouTube.

"Because I know from just what I'm hearing, that there's incredible pent-up desire. And I think that people want to feel like, 'OK, it's a catharsis, we're here, we did it, and then everybody get behind Sen. Obama.' That is what most people believe is the best way to go," she said.

"No decisions have been made. And so we are trying to work all this through with the DNC and with the Obama campaign."

Clinton's comments shed some light on a fierce behind-the-scenes squabble between the Clinton and Obama camps over how to recognize Clinton and her achievements in the primaries without overshadowing or detracting from a convention that belongs to Obama.

The New York Daily News reported Friday that Clinton has decided not to submit a signed request to the DNC to have her name put into nomination; party rules require such a move for a candidate to be voted on.

But Clinton aides continue to say publicly that such details are still being discussed in consultations among the Clinton camp, the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

"No decisions have been made," Clinton spokeswoman Kathleen Strand said.

"Sen. Clinton is 100 percent committed to helping Barack Obama become the next president of the United States," Strand added. "She is very appreciative of the continued commitment of her supporters and understands there are passionate feelings around the convention. While no decisions have been made at this time, they will be made collaboratively with Sen. Clinton and her staff, the DNC and Sen. Obama's campaign and released at the appropriate time."

Sources close to both Obama and Clinton told ABC News that the New York senator is highly unlikely to allow her name to be formally submitted for a roll-call vote on the convention floor. The Obama campaign wants to avoid such a vote, since it would underscore the party's splits and remind voters of the divisive primary campaign between the two Democrats.

The refusal to publicly announce her intentions is widely seen as a bargaining chip Clinton is holding on to as party officials negotiate logistics regarding her convention speech and other activities, according to several Democrats who are closely involved in the matter.

Clinton plans to hold a Web chat with supporters Thursday afternoon where she might clarify her convention role. In announcing the Web chat, she urged her supporters to continue to stay tuned to her Web site for updates about her convention activities.

But the very fact that details of her convention role remain unresolved less than three weeks before the Democrats descend upon Denver is a fresh sign of the difficulties the party will face at a convention when nearly half the delegates were chosen because of their support for a candidate who will not be the nominee.

History provides little guidance: In the modern convention era, the delegate count for the two leading candidates has never been this close.

Lanny Davis, a longtime friend and supporter of the Clintons, called the idea of putting Clinton's name into nomination a "completely idiotic idea that leads to nothing but party disharmony."

Still, the fact that some Clinton supporters are clamoring for a chance to vote for her at the convention is partly Obama's fault, he said. Davis, who described himself as "100 percent behind Obama" in the general election, said Obama should be doing more -- in symbolic and substantive gestures -- to make clear he values and needs the support of former Clinton supporters.

"It's a reflection of genuine frustration by Hillary Clinton supporters that Sen. Obama seems to have forgotten about 18 million voters," Davis said. "My concern about Sen. Obama is he doesn't recognize that the outreach to the Clinton grass roots has to be more visible, more overt, as well as more symbolic."

The two camps have worked cooperatively on a draft of the party platform, and Clinton is set to hit the campaign trail for Obama on Friday, appearing by herself at an Obama event in Nevada.

The campaigns also issued a joint statement late today, reiterating that there is no division.

"We are working together to make sure the fall campaign and the convention are a success," the joint statement said. "At the Democratic Convention, we will ensure that the voices of everyone who participated in this historic process are respected and our party will be fully unified heading into the November election."

And party leaders are coming together to help retire her campaign debt, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid scheduled to headline a fundraiser on her behalf Sept. 17.

Still, some Clinton loyalists have complained that Obama hasn't done enough to help Clinton pay off the debt she amassed during the primaries.

Davis said that if Obama won't name Clinton as his running mate, he could at least designate her the convention's keynote speaker. Clinton will get a choice prime-time slot Tuesday night, but no decisions have been announced regarding the keynote address.

"Her supporters want -- after 18 million votes, and the record of success from March 1 through June 1 -- to feel recognized, and I think we should," Davis said.

Clinton is facing pressure from some of her die-hard supporters to request that her name to be placed into nomination.

Several groups of Clinton supporters are organizing marches and demonstrations in Denver. Major events are being planned for Aug. 26, the date Clinton is slated to speak at the convention -- which happens to be the 88th anniversary of the ratification of the constitutional amendment guaranteeing women's suffrage.

Susan Castner, a Clinton delegate from Portland, Ore., is gathering the 300 signatures from delegates that Clinton would need in case she decides she wants to be part of convention balloting.

"We will have this in hand for Sen. Clinton, should this be needed," said Castner, who said that she's already gathered about half the necessary signatures.

Castner said she and many other Clinton supporters will only feel as if their voices are being heard if they are allowed to vote for Clinton on a first ballot.

"It's been a tradition since the late 1800s -- it's a nominating convention, you vote, you nominate someone, and you come out unified. I don't see how alienating 1,800 delegates gives you party unity when we walk out of the stadium," she said. "Hillary delegates feel like we're not welcome, needed, or valued."

"I cannot believe that Sen. Clinton, after putting in that much time, energy and effort, would just say, ' Nah, take my name out,' " Castner said.

Some Clinton backers have even speculated that a roll call could result in a Clinton victory, though Clinton herself has said such an outcome is nearly impossible. Many Clinton delegates have followed their candidate's lead and are fully supporting Obama's candidacy, so Clinton will likely wind up with fewer votes in a roll call than her delegate total as of the final primaries June 3.

"What we want to have happen is for Sen. Obama to be nominated by a unified convention of Democrats," Clinton said at the California fundraiser last week. "And as I have said, the best way I think -- and I could be wrong -- but the best way I think to do that is to have a strategy so that my delegates feel like they have a role, and that their legitimacy has been validated."

She added: "It's as old as, you know, as Greek drama. You know, there is a catharsis. I mean, everybody comes and, you know, they want to yell and scream and have their opportunity, and I think that's all to the good. Because then, you know, everybody can go, 'OK, great, now let's go out and win.' "

"And that's what we want people to feel. We do not want any Democrat either in the hall or in the stadium or at home walking away saying, 'Well, you know, I'm just not satisfied, I'm not happy.' Because, I mean, that's what I'm trying to avoid."

The clear challenge for Clinton, Obama, and the DNC is to allow for the Clinton delegates to feel satisfied and energized without undermining the legitimacy of Obama's nomination.

Nick Shapiro, an Obama campaign spokesman, downplayed reports of tension between the two camps.

"Sen. Clinton will play a critical role in this convention and is also playing a critical role in the campaign," Shapiro said. "She has campaigned for Obama, raised money for him and spoken on his behalf on several occasions.  We appreciate and look forward to her continued support."

ABC News' John Berman and Sunlen Miller contributed to this report.

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