Historic night: Democrats unite around Obama

It was a scripted scenario, the outcome never in doubt. But when history arrived on the floor of the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, it came with the full force of emotion.

After an especially long primary season, after private wrangling and public battle, the Democratic Party became the first major party to select an African-American nominee for president in the nation's history.

With a roar of approval and a sparkle of flashing cameras, the convention's delegates nominated by acclamation Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who just four years ago electrified the Democratic convention with a speech where he first called for "a politics of hope." That message carried him in this election season to the top of his party's ticket.

"I never thought I'd live this long to see this," said Albert Lewis, a Hawaii delegate, where Obama grew up. "I'm very proud to be an American today."

Obama's nomination was the climax of a campaign that intertwined two groups that have spent much of the past 50 years struggling for their place at the table of American politics: blacks and women. And it came at the hands of the woman who had tried so hard to wrest it from him. When the roll call came to New York, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton joined her state's delegation on the floor and asked the convention to stop the roll call and nominate Obama.

"In the spirit of unity, with the goal of victory," Clinton said, "let's declare together in one voice, right here right now, that Barack Obama is our candidate."

George Bixon, a retired electrician and the only black delegate among 57 from Iowa, said tears streamed down his cheeks as Obama was nominated.

"It was a moment I thought would never happen in my lifetime," Bixon said. "He was nominated not as a black man but as a man who is qualified to do the job, and that made me proud."

He immediately called his wife back home who waited by the phone with their daughter and two grandchildren.

"We made history and I was part of it," he said he told them. "I'm proud of my country. I'm 63. I was refused buying a candy bar when I was 7 years old. I have been refused trying to purchase a home in an all-white neighborhood. This is nothing short of a miracle,"

"I can hardly describe how I feel, I am so excited," said Kathy Sykes, a delegate from Mississippi, whose delegation in 1964 challenged the party to seat black delegates.

"When I think about (civil rights activist) Medgar Evers, who lost his life registering people to vote — we have come a long way in this country, and we need a man like Barack Obama to lead us into the future."

'One of the greatest things'

Although it had been expected for months, the impact of Obama's nomination rippled out from the Denver convention hall.

Charles Evers, the brother of slain civil rights leader Evers and a Republican supporter of Barack Obama, was listening to the nomination coverage on television Wednesday night before hosting his radio show, Let's Talk, on WMPR-FM in Jackson, Miss.

The nomination is "one of the greatest things that ever happened in my 86 years," Evers said. "I know Medgar, Martin (Luther King) and others never dreamed they would see this day. Forty-five years ago we couldn't do this. Medgar was killed 45 years ago trying to get the right to be heard, period."

"This is a monumental moment in our nation's history," Martin Luther King III, the civil rights icon's oldest son, told the Associated Press on Wednesday. "And it becomes obviously an even greater moment in November if he's elected."

Clinton's 'sportsmanship'

Clinton's move during the roll call had been carefully orchestrated. As she spoke, the red digital clock that times speakers was counting down to zero.

Her arrival on the convention floor, where she stood out in a turquoise pantsuit under the light of TV cameras, brought a roar of cheers. "That's class!" said Vincent Arriola, a delegate from Guam.

There also were tears. Pilar Lujan, a senator from Guam, had hoped this would be a year she would "see a woman rule the nation."

"The sportsmanship of Hillary Clinton really made women even greater," she said.

Montana state Sen. Carol Williams, who called Clinton "my friend" as she announced her state's vote, said the New York senator's performance helped reconcile her supporters to Obama's nomination.

"She's been so elegant and courageous," Williams said.

Delegates had been signing their ballots all day, bringing to an end a drama that had been running since the last Democratic nominating contest on June 3.

Earlier in the day, Clinton had released her delegates, allowing them to vote for either candidate. She told them that she had voted for Obama but did not tell them how to vote.

Mark Smith, a delegate from Silsbee, Texas, changed his vote as a result. "When Barack became her candidate, he became mine. It was difficult because it was a bitter battle between two qualified, very talented candidates for presidency."

'He's my No. 1 now'

The long march toward unity may finally have ended for the Democrats with Wednesday's roll call, but given the deep passion, and anger, of Clinton's supporters, it might not.

"It's going to take me awhile, because I've been supporting her so long," said Clara Maynard, a Texas delegate. "But I intend to vote for Obama. I intend to put an Obama sign in my yard and a bumper sticker on my car and to work for him so we can win this election."

"He wasn't my No. 1 candidate, but he's my No. 1 candidate now, because he's going to make a difference in my life," said Arika Kulhavy, a Texas delegate, who noted that she will turn 25 this year and therefore lose her health insurance and her graduate school scholarship, both of which she gets through her father, a college professor.

Going into the roll call, delegates were eager, if not determined, to cast their votes for Clinton.

"It's who we represent, who elected us. We represent the 18 million voters out there. Our vote is their voice. All of us are pretty passionate about that and feel that it's not over until then," Oregon delegate Jane Quinn said. "After that, then we get to step back and then move forward and help elect a Democrat into the White House."

Susie Tompkins Buell, a top Hillary Rodham Clinton fundraiser from the Bay Area, said she had considered not coming to the convention because she was "heartsick" that Clinton was not Obama's vice presidential choice.

She listened to Clinton's speech on Tuesday feeling "deeply sad and incredibly proud." But she said it helped her to come to terms with reality.

"We just have to move on, and I understand that, and I am supporting Obama," Tompkins Buell said. "The sense of urgency was made very, very clear. The party is unified."

Both factions in the party knew all along that the convention would make history.

Mary Ann Andreas, 63, vice chairwoman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, was overcome with emotion amid a thundering aPepsi Center as Obama was officially nominated.

"I think it will change America in more ways than anyone realizes yet," said Andreas, a member of the Democratic convention's credentials committee.

"Once we get past that threshold of the first black president, it will throw off many chains that bind us and make us the great country we were meant to be," Andreas said.

Contributing: Fredreka Schouten, Kathy Kiely, Garrett Hubbard and Julie Wolf