Barack Obama will be the star of the Democratic National Convention, but the largest share of the prime-time spotlight at the four-day gathering will shine on Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will be given star treatment, too.
In fact, next to the nominee-in-waiting, no one will loom larger at the national party gathering than the two-term former president and the New York senator who received 18 million votes in the party's primaries. Each will address the convention on successive nights and together will be given more time before the delegates than Mr. Obama himself.
Mrs. Clinton, who "suspended" her campaign but never formally ended it, will have her name placed in nomination, and there will be a roll call of the delegates to validate how close she came to clinching the nomination and making political history.
That could lead to a second appearance by the former first lady at the podium and yet another speech, asking that the delegate roll call be ended and Mr. Obama be nominated by acclamation.
"Essentially, what Barack Obama has done is give the Clintons enormous visibility through the first three days of the convention, reserving for himself the final day of the convention out of the belief that, while it may seem slightly unorthodox, this will bring Democrats and Americans back together again," said former Democratic National Chairman Steve Grossman.
Their co-starring role at the convention, where Mrs. Clinton's legions of supporters planned to hold daily campaign-style demonstrations, receptions and rallies, is the product of weeks of difficult and sometimes acrimonious behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Obama campaign.
Mrs. Clinton insisted that she and her supporters be treated with "respect" and that her delegates be given a chance to cast their votes. Such a "cathartic" experience, she maintained, would help heal the party's deep divisions after a lengthy and bitter primary battle and unite Democrats behind Mr. Obama's candidacy.
"You've got Barack Obama doing something unprecedented by bending over backward, making sure he gives the Clintons the honor and respect they deserve by giving them more of the spotlight. He has enough confidence in himself that he is giving three-quarters of the convention to the Clintons," a senior party official and Clinton confidante told The Washington Times.
"It will be great for his candidacy because it means her supporters will have more of a reason to back him. They know that Obama has embraced her candidacy and acknowledged the historic nature of the movement she created by her candidacy," said Maria Cardona, a former senior adviser to the Clinton campaign.
Nevertheless, she and other Democrats say divisions persist in the party that will not be completely healed soon.
"I don't think that [such divisions] are going to necessarily evaporate, but if Hillary Clinton's supporters get a chance to be heard and this roll-call vote is taken, their voices can be a transition to Senator Obama's candidacy," Mrs. Cardona said.
"As long as there are people who are upset that she is not the nominee, it will be a work in progress," she said.
No swan song
Far from being the Clintons' political swan song, both appearances at the convention were expected to enhance their influence in the party as a force to be reckoned with in this year's elections and future elections, as well - perhaps another run for the presidency by Mrs. Clinton, Democrats said.
For Mr. Clinton, it is a chance to repair his relations with Obama Democrats who thought he unfairly criticized and insulted their candidate during the primaries.
"Bill Clinton got beat up - he felt, unfairly. This is an opportunity for him to heal the wounds on both sides - on the Obama side to help unify the party behind him, and on the Clinton side to repair some of the damage done to him in the primaries," said Democratic campaign media adviser Bud Jackson.
For Mrs. Clinton, it will be a time to use her leadership in the party "to give a unifying speech and rouse the base of the party around Obama and being a positive rallying force," Mr. Jackson said.
But Democrats said it also will be an opportunity for Mrs. Clinton to elevate her own stature in the party and position herself to run for president again if Mr. Obama should lose in November.
"If Barack Obama were to fall short, clearly the leadership of the Democratic Party would be up for grabs, and Hillary Clinton, by virtue of her performance in 2008, could easily lay claim to that," Mr. Grossman said.
"God forbid Barack Obama is not elected, but if that happens, she would certainly be a pre-eminent force in the Democratic Party, more so than her husband," he said.
"I would not be surprised at all to see her running for president if John McCain is elected. She does not want to come out of this convention as someone who divided the convention and hurt Obama's chances that would contribute to McCain winning the presidency," Mr. Jackson said.
"Then, should Obama lose, she could not be blamed, and she would position herself well to be the nominee in the next election. I'm sure [the Clintons] are thinking of all the possibilities," he said.
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