- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2008

CHICAGO | Sen. Barack Obama’s bid for party unity at the Democratic National Convention, which opens Monday, is being challenged by angry supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton who refuse to let heal wounds from a brutal primary fight that their candidate lost.

“You can actually feel this party splitting,” said Diane Mantouvalos, co-founder of Just Say No Deal coalition, an Internet-based collection of more than 250 groups vehemently opposed to the impending presidential nomination of Mr. Obama at the party convention in Denver. “There is a lot of anger out there.”

The renegade Democrats plan to stage protests outside the convention hall, flood the Internet with live blogs from Denver and air a TV ad challenging the legitimacy of the party’s nominating process. Miss Mantouvalos said her group is screening two anti-Obama documentary films in Denver this week, including “The Audacity of Democracy,” a play on the title of one of Mr. Obama’s autobiographical books.

Mr. Obama exacerbated the ill will Saturday by tapping Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware as his running mate, dashing Clinton supporters’ dreams that she would at least get the No. 2 spot on the ticket. The Obama team didn’t even ask Mrs. Clinton for the papers and records needed for the customary vetting process, a sign that she never was seriously considered despite Mr. Obama’s public words, Clinton aides said.

“It’s a total dis to Senator Clinton,” Miss Mantouvalos said. “It just speaks volumes about how Barack Obama doesn’t stand for anything.”

With polls showing as many as half of Mrs. Clinton’s voters up for grabs in the fall, Republican Sen. John McCain’s campaign sought to immediately seize on the opportunity by airing a TV ad Sunday quoting the former first lady’s criticisms of Mr. Obama during the primary campaign. The ad also features a voice-over announcer echoing Clinton supporter’s frustration about Mr. Obama’s vice-presidential pick: “She won millions of votes but isn’t on the ticket. Why? For speaking the truth.”

Clinton spokeswoman Kathleen Strand dismissed the ad, saying Mrs. Clinton’s “support of Barack Obama is clear. She has said repeatedly that Barack Obama and she share a commitment to changing the direction of the country, getting us out of Iraq and expanding access to health care. John McCain doesn’t. It’s interesting how those remarks didn’t make it into his ad.”

Will Bower, a registered Democrat in the District who co-founded an anti-Obama group called PUMA, nonetheless said he likely will vote for Mr. McCain.

“I feel that Obama has won a fraudulent campaign,” Mr. Bower said. “He’s done nothing. He’s great at speeches and that’s it.”

His misgivings about the senator from Illinois echo the primary campaign attacks by Mrs. Clinton, although the senator from New York has since recanted and embraced his nomination.

Mr. Bower isn’t alone. Polls taken over the last week show as many as one in five of the Clinton supporters now back Mr. McCain, and many more are up for grabs. A Zogby International poll showed about 25 percent of Democrats do not support Mr. Obama. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll taken Saturday and Sunday showed that 66 percent of Clinton voters now back Mr. Obama, with 27 percent supporting Mr. McCain.

The groups opposed to the Obama nomination did not identify any members who were convention delegates capable of affecting the outcome of the nomination vote. Some Clinton delegates aggressively pushed for the roll-call vote at the convention and expressed determination to vote for Mrs. Clinton, even if the outcome appears predetermined.

Penny Snow, a convention delegate from Portland, Maine, told the political news Web site Politickerme.com that she intended to cast her vote for Mrs. Clinton at the convention and would have a hard time voting for Mr. Obama in November.

Obama campaign officials said the disgruntled Clinton voters do not reflect the steady stream of her supporters joining the all-but-certain Democratic presidential nominee.

“It is a fairly emotional process that we are all going through at different rates,” said Dana Singiser, a former Clinton campaign adviser on outreach to female voters who now does that job for Mr. Obama.

She said more Clinton supporters will gravitate to the Obama camp as the race progresses this fall. “We probably won’t get all 18 million voters who voted for Hillary but we are going to keep talking to her voters.”

The Obama campaign has made a series of concessions and conciliatory gestures at the four-day convention to placate disaffected Clinton supporters:

Mr. Obama has tapped her and former President Bill Clinton for prime speaking slots.

The campaign is proposing new nominating rules for the next election that will reduce the influence of superdelegates - party officeholders and activists who are free to vote as they wish and who under current rules handed Mr. Obama the nomination. The senator from Illinois won a slight majority of the pledged delegates, those awarded through primaries and caucuses, but he could not get the 2,118 delegates needed for an overall majority that way.

The delegations from Michigan and Florida, which had conducted their primaries in violation of party rules, had their full voting rights restored Sunday by the party’s credentials committee. Neither Mr. Obama nor Mrs. Clinton campaigned in the states, but the senator from New York won both nominating contests. How the national convention would handle their delegations was a major bone of contention in late spring with the race still in the balance and Mrs. Clinton calling anything but full voting rights a form of disenfranchisement.

The Obama campaign also struck a deal with Mrs. Clinton to include her name in the roll-call vote, although she is expected during her prime-time speech Tuesday night to urge her delegates to back Mr. Obama if the tightly orchestrated convention goes according to script. Mr. Obama is expected to win the nomination in a roll-call vote on the convention floor Wednesday and make an acceptance speech Thursday.

But Democrats opposing Mr. Obama and the nomination process vow to crash the party.

They hope that Mrs. Clinton somehow will win the nomination when the delegate votes are tallied, although Mrs. Clinton has disassociated herself from their efforts and has been campaigning for Mr. Obama in swing states.

“Senator Clinton does not support any effort that detracts from party unity and support of Senator Obama’s victory in the fall,” Miss Strand said.

Still, many Clinton supporters will use the roll call as a cathartic event to air their support one more time for the senator from New York and to bring closure to the bitter primary battle. Among those planning to cast a vote for Mrs. Clinton is Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a former Democratic Party chairman.

Away from the convention, the race nationally is a statistical dead heat, as Mr. Obama’s lead evaporated this summer.

“He’s on the ropes,” said pollster John Zogby, but Mr. Obama could get the big bump he needs from the convention with a stirring speech like his keynote address at the 2004 convention that launched his political career onto a national trajectory.

“Remember, this whole thing started with a big speech at a big convention,” Mr. Zogby said.

Another band of former Clinton voters determined to make waves at the convention is the Denver Group, which does not oppose Mr. Obama but which accuses the Democratic Party of rigging the nominating process. They have collected more than $50,000 in donations since June to fund an advertising campaign calling for an open roll-call vote at the convention, including podium time for Mrs. Clinton’s supporters to make the case for her nomination.

“Going through the motions of voting is not the same as respecting the franchise,” said Heidi Li Feldman, a Georgetown University Law Center professor who helped establish the group.

It’s all fodder for what they say is a significant bloc of Mrs. Clinton’s die-hard supporters who refuse to join the Democratic fold.

“The bottom line is they won’t vote Democrat this year, which is really kind of sad,” said Miss Mantouvalos, who is taking time off from her job as a public relations consultant in Miami to work full time for the coalition. “They feel that he was really ill-equipped to be commander in chief.”

She said she is considering casting her vote for Mr. McCain.

The Obama campaign, acutely aware of the lingering ill will from the primary fight, made a concerted effort beginning in July to contact each of Mrs. Clinton’s pledged nominating delegates won in primary votes and each of the superdelegates who declared their support for the former first lady.

Senior campaign staff court these key supporters with weekly conference calls for delegates to which Mrs. Clinton’s backers are invited and with a weekly newsletter to delegates, campaign officials said.

Obama campaign spokesman Nick Shapiro said neither fluctuations in the polls nor rhetoric from these groups would diminish voters’ appetite for the political change Mr. Obama promises.

“Despite any up or down movement in the polls, John McCain offers just more of the same at a time when the American people are looking to change the way business gets done in Washington.”

Liberal bloggers, who helped spark the rise of Mr. Obama, have been critical of the presumptive Democratic nominee. Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos, took some heat for saying Mr. Obama was moving toward the center, particularly after Mr. Obama voted this summer for a bill to broaden wiretapping powers.

“I don’t buy that Obama is a centrist,” Mr. Moulitsas said Sunday. “What he did on the intelligence bill was negating a political attack from the right. He did it for political reasons.

“We’re going to disagree with Obama,” he said. “But he is not going to be like the Republicans who watched George Bush destroy America. We’re not going to agree with everything Obama does, but at least he will take this country in the right direction.”

Karen Goff contributed to this story from Denver.

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