Sharing the convention stage
Presidential conventions have morphed into four-day infomercials for the nominee, but this time around Barack Obama may have to cede some camera time to the rival he vanquished in the Democratic primary, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Clinton’s allies are negotiating with the Obama campaign over a delicate question: whether to set aside time to celebrate a political figure whose historic campaign brought her closer than any other woman to clinching the party’s nomination.
So far, the only settled issue is that both Clinton and her husband will speak at the convention -- she on Aug. 26 and he the next day. But some of Clinton’s fundraisers and supporters think that is not enough.
They want to stage a march through the hall, a tribute with music and balloons, or some other display to mark her achievement. And the best time for that, they say, might be the night she addresses the delegates.
The Clinton camp warns that if Obama resists, Democrats who preferred her in the primary may feel snubbed, polarizing the party and diminishing Obama’s chances of defeating Republican John McCain.
Clinton herself said her supporters needed “a catharsis” at the convention. She told some gathered at a Palo Alto home last month that her delegates should have a chance to “yell and scream and have their opportunity . . . because then everybody can go, ‘OK, great. Now let’s go out and win.’ ”
Alan Kessler, a major Clinton fundraiser, said Friday that her supporters needed a way to express their enthusiasm for her.
“If you don’t do that, that emotion will continue to be pent up,” he said. “The perfect opportunity would be before she speaks to have some opportunity for a celebration.”
Obama aides downplayed any suggestion that there was friction over Clinton’s role at the Denver convention. The two sides are working together, an Obama aide said, including discussing the wording on Clinton signs.
“We’re basically saying, ‘What do you want?’ That’s what the discussion is,” said the aide, who was not authorized to speak on the record and so requested anonymity. “We want to make sure that Sen. Clinton’s supporters have the opportunity to express their enthusiasm for her when she speaks.”
Other convention questions are closer to resolution. With John Edwards’ admission Friday that he had an extramarital affair with a woman who worked on his presidential campaign, it is now “unlikely” that the party’s 2004 vice presidential candidate will speak at the convention, the Obama aide said. Edwards’ participation would have been awkward even before his admission, considering the online chatter over National Enquirer articles on the affair.
Clinton could opt to have her name entered into nomination, but her aides said that was unlikely. Doing so would risk a roll-call vote that could prove embarrassing if delegates decided not to rally behind a defeated candidate.
Talking to reporters after campaigning for Obama on Friday in a Las Vegas suburb, Clinton said there had been no decision on whether her name would be placed into nomination, a move that would require her to sign a statement agreeing to be a potential nominee.
But under party rules, delegates could cast votes for her even if she didn’t sign.
“I don’t think it’s in her interests” to put her name into nomination, said a former Clinton aide, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to talk more freely.
“My view is she should not put her name in nomination, and she should just go tell her supporters, ‘Let’s suck it up.’ This is a grown-up game here.”
Clinton’s supporters are insistent that she be shown respect in Denver.
Kellie Liggett, 46, a retired maintenance worker in Las Vegas who attended Clinton’s campaign event Friday, said that she was “on the fence” about Obama and might vote for McCain.
At the convention, Clinton supporters “need to be given their due. She lost by a smidgen!” Liggett said. “I’d be happy if they’d just give her the nomination, but I know that can’t happen.”
The only surefire way to get her to vote for Obama, Liggett said, would be to have Clinton as his running mate. Liggett said she came to the rally Friday to cheer for Clinton “one more time.”
There are signs that Clinton -- sidelined for two months -- is moving on. Earlier this month, her aides sent letters to donors seeking permission to redirect their contributions to another race: her 2012 Senate reelection campaign.
Times staff writer Ashley Powers contributed to this report from Henderson, Nev.