Nation & World

Democrats sell economic vision, try to heal internal rift

DENVER — Sen. Hillary Clinton on Tuesday turned the second day of the Democratic National Convention into a celebration of her historic presidential campaign as a breakthrough for women, but she left no doubt that she's foursquare behind Barack Obama as her party's nominee for the presidency.

After a video tribute to her long campaign against Obama for the nomination, Clinton walked onstage, introduced by her daughter, Chelsea, who called her "my hero and my mother." Together they faced a sea of waving white signs scrawled with the word "Hillary" in blue.

Clinton told everyone, "I'm here tonight as a proud mother, as a proud Democrat, as a proud senator from New York, a proud American and a proud supporter of Barack Obama. . . .Whether you voted for me or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose. We are on the same team, and none of us can sit on the sidelines."

She thanked her supporters, whom she called "my champions — my sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits. You never gave in. You never gave up. And together, we made history."

Her speech gave the convention an emotional lift after a desultory second day of speeches by a parade of Democratic politicians.

Her uncompromising appeal for party unity behind Obama may have given the convention the spiritual lift it seemed to be lacking up to that point, and put emotion behind a gathering that otherwise spent the day stressing that Obama's economic plan is starkly different from the Republicans'.

Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, the convention's keynote speaker, tried to hammer home that message, warning that Republican rival John McCain "promises more of the same. A plan that would explode the deficit that will be passed on to our kids. No real strategy to invest in our crumbling infrastructure.

"And he would continue spending $10 billion a month" in Iraq, which Warner, who's a strong favorite to win a U.S. Senate seat from Virginia this fall, said America no longer could afford.

Warner's speech detailed the party's positions on health care, education and opportunity, and he closed with a quote from his fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson.

"I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past," Jefferson wrote to his onetime rival, John Adams of Massachusetts, toward the end of their lives.

"Jefferson got it right at the dawn of the 19th century, and it's our challenge to get it right at the dawn of the 21st," Warner said. "This race is all about the future. That's why we must elect Barack Obama as our next president."

Warner was received politely, but Clinton was clearly the evening's main event.

The party's unity remains fragile, and the delegates' mood is palpably tentative. That was obvious throughout the Pepsi Center, where scores of delegates wore their Hillary buttons and waved big white "H'' signs. Those delegates were generally ready to accept Obama, but they really wanted Clinton.

"I've loved her for years," said Carolyn Covington, a retired teacher from Palmer, Alaska. "But I'm going to be out there rooting for Obama."

The quest for harmony continues Wednesday, when the featured prime-time speaker is former President Bill Clinton, who implicitly suggested Tuesday that Obama may be a weak candidate.

"Suppose you're a voter, and you've got candidate X and candidate Y. Candidate X agrees with you on everything, but you don't think that candidate can deliver on anything at all," Clinton asked. "Candidate Y you agree with on about half the issues, but he can deliver.

"Which candidate are you going to vote for?"

The former president quickly added, "This has nothing to do with what's going on now."

Hillary Clinton connected with Michelle Obama backstage Tuesday at an event sponsored by EMILY's List, a group that recruits and funds female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights.

"Senator Clinton congratulated her on her speech and Michelle wished her good luck tonight," Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Bill Clinton's comment was the talk of Denver, however, since the city is jammed with 15,000 journalists looking for the slightest hint of a continuing Clinton-Obama schism, and the convention hall had about 1,500 delegates pledged to the New York senator. His comments stoked the notion that some Hillary Clinton backers still aren't ready to embrace Obama, as did some pro-Clinton delegates themselves.

"If we were to do 10 ballots, I'd support her on every one," said Hazel Rigby, a retired Alexandria, Va., teacher. "Unity is overrated. Look what happened in Germany."

Delegates were confused about how a roll call of the states will proceed Wednesday. The Clinton and Obama camps were discussing a deal in which some states would cast votes on the convention floor in prime time, then Clinton or a supporter would move to make the Obama nomination unanimous.

Clinton wasn't saying what she'd do, however, and some delegates indicated that they'd be upset if they couldn't vote for her.

"Basically, the primary was a tie," said Margaret Haynes, a real estate broker from Wilmington, N.C.

"We know how we're going to leave here, but it's still important that women have made this progress. . . . If we're disenfranchised from casting a vote for Hillary Clinton, it will be very difficult to feel a part of a unified process."

Political pros were more optimistic, and put particular emphasis on getting women behind Obama.

There was evidence that that might be happening. Female delegates rallied during the day Tuesday at the Colorado Convention Center, and when speakers mentioned Obama's name, they shook souvenir tambourines in unison. Few dissented.

"How can we be mad? They're us," said Eleanor Smeal, the president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and a Clinton supporter. And they have a common goal, Smeal added: a better, fairer economy.

Obama pushed his economic agenda at a morning campaign event at an American Airlines overhaul facility in Kansas City, Mo., where unionized mechanics said that nearly half of their work force could be cut by year's end because of rising fuel costs.

"This economy is not working for ordinary Americans," Obama told about 150 workers and 100 local Democratic activists gathered at the hangar. He said he'd press to make trade agreements fair to U.S. workers and to end tax breaks for companies that moved jobs overseas.

He also said that he was open to considering more offshore oil drilling but emphasized that in the long term, cleaner alternative energy is how to save U.S. businesses with big fuel needs. He said that his plans to expand health care would help workers, and he pledged to protect Social Security.

Regarding Republicans' suggestions that the U.S. economy isn't that bad, Obama said: "I don't think John McCain says these things because he's a bad person. I just don't think he gets it. I don't think he realizes what ordinary Americans are going through. But I do, and that's why I'm running for president."

(Margaret Talev in Billings, Mont., and Jim Morrill of The Charlotte Observer in Denver contributed to this article.)

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