By Adriel Bettelheim
“Hillary understands that some of her strongest supporters are grieving and she’s showing them she’s done grieving and moving on.” – Bruce H. Neilson, a delegate from Falls Church Va.
Barack Obama became the first African-American presidential nominee of a major political party on Wednesday, after his principal rival underscored the Democrats’ drive to appear unified by appearing on the convention floor to request that the first-term senator from Illinois be declared the nominee by acclamation.
Obama later surprised delegates at the conclusion of the third evening of the Democratic National Convention by briefly appearing on stage with his vice presidential pick, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware. Biden, also nominated by acclamation, had just delivered a fiery populist speech that condemned President Bush’s economic and foreign policies.
“I want everyone to understand why I am so proud to have Joe Biden . . . and the whole Biden family with me on this podium,” Obama said to wild applause. “I think the convention’s gone pretty well so far, what do you think?”
Obama’s nomination was sealed after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton stepped forward to cast New York’s 282 votes midway through the state-by-state roll call Wednesday afternoon. But in a carefully orchestrated gesture, she moved that delegates dispense with the rest of the formalities.
“Let’s declare in one voice, right here and right now, that Barack Obama is our candidate,” a beaming Clinton said to thunderous cheers and applause from the delegates assembled in Denver’s Pepsi Center.
Clinton had removed the last nettlesome obstacle in Obama’s path to heading the ticket earlier in the day, when she formally released her delegates from their pledges to vote for her.
In one of the day’s most watched appearances, former President Bill Clinton followed his wife’s lead, endorsing Obama in a glowing speech to the convention that portrayed Obama as a leader capable of inspiring people and rallying Americans to a higher purpose. Clinton puckishly contrasted criticisms he received during his first presidential run, in 1992, to those Republicans are currently levying at Obama.
“We prevailed in a campaign in which the Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be commander in chief. Sound familiar?” Clinton asked.
The day’s events put to rest, at least for the moment, speculation about lingering animosity between the Obama and Clinton camps stemming from the grueling primary season. Obama supporters had worried that the ex-president would somehow upstage the nominee by shifting the focus away from the evening’s theme of strengthening national security and foreign affairs and onto the economy, or by emphasizing his designs for the party.
Instead, Obama got ringing endorsements from speaker after speaker, including 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. The Massachusetts senator criticized his longtime friend Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee, for straying from his independent streak and embracing outdated positions as the GOP’s standard-bearer.
Biden bitterly criticized his “friend” the Arizona senator for duplicating Bush positions on key issues including the minimum wage and tax policy, punctuating each charge with the line, “That’s not change, that’s more of the same.”
In spite of the buoyant mood, some Obama supporters were bracing for a bitter conclusion to the campaign. “After the bump, we are going to have to dig in,” said Rep. Danny K. Davis of Illinois.
Obama had been leading Clinton in the tally of pledged delegates, 1549.5 to 341.5 – with 2,210 required for the nomination – when Clinton emerged on the convention floor Wednesday afternoon, flanked by a phalanx of Secret Service agents. “I move Sen. Barack Obama be selected by this convention by acclamation as the nominee,” Clinton said from the New York delegation rostrum.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi , the permanent chair of the convention, asked the assembly if anyone would second the motion and, after a resounding yes, declared Obama the party’s candidate for president by acclamation at 4:48 p.m. Mountain Time. Several black delegates wept.
“It is probably the most important event that I will have seen. I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime,” said E.W. Cromartie, an Obama delegate and the mayor pro tem of Columbia, S.C., who participated in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s march on Washington.
“I thought we’d get to that point as a country. But I think it happened sooner than I expected,” said Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama.
Clinton told her delegates to focus on the big prize during a campaign-style rally at the Colorado Convention Center.
“I am not telling you what to do,” she said. But she added that she had turned in her written ballot to the New York delegation clerk with her vote cast for Obama.
Some of Clinton’s supporters heeded her call when the traditional roll call began. The delegation from New Hampshire, the scene of her upset February primary win, pledged all 30 of its delegates to Obama.
Clinton amassed about 45 percent of the delegates – 1,889 were pledged to her and 2,254 to Obama -after one of the most hard-fought presidential nominating battles in modern times. Four other delegates were pledged to John Edwards, and 17 more were uncommitted.
By the end of the night, the New York senator’s conciliatory gestures appeared to be working to unite the party behind the winner.
“There’s a little bitterness, and some of that will linger, but the vast majority of her supporters are following her,” said Brad Avakian, the Oregon labor commissioner. Added Bruce H. Neilson, a delegate from Falls Church Va.: “Hillary understands that some of her strongest supporters are grieving and she’s showing them she’s done grieving and moving on.”
Michael Trujillo, an alternate Clinton delegate from Mission Hills, Calif., said he would vote for Obama, but added, “I reserve the right to criticize him, criticize his activists, his volunteers and every apparatus of the Obama campaign, but I’ll vote for him.”