By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 8, 2008
With the clock running out on preparations for the Democratic convention, advisers to Sen. Barack Obama are scrambling to reach a compromise with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to appease her supporters and find roles for her and her husband.
The Obama and Clinton camps said this week that they agree on a central point: They would like to avoid an embarrassing display of discord from Clinton's most ardent backers when the national convention begins in just over two weeks. Conversations about how to achieve that have increasingly focused on the question of whether Clinton's name will be offered in a roll-call vote by delegates to determine the nominee, even though she has said she is not challenging Obama's claim as the party's standard-bearer.
Clinton confidante Cheryl Mills is working directly with Obama campaign manager David Plouffe to reach an accommodation, both sides confirmed. Clinton has been told that she will probably speak Tuesday night, Aug. 26, two nights before Obama's acceptance speech, and she is working on her remarks, which will touch on her breakthrough as a woman but will be, in the words of one associate, largely "forward looking."
Former president Bill Clinton is almost certain to play a role, perhaps on Wednesday, Aug. 27, advisers said, despite his lukewarm embrace so far of the Democratic candidate. His apparent reluctance to declare that Obama is qualified for the presidency in an interview with ABC this week left Obama aides rolling their eyes. Bill Clinton and Obama held their second phone conversation since the end of the primaries this week, aides said, part of a thawing process that the two sides hope will accelerate as the month goes on.
Exactly what the formal nominating process will look like at the convention remains an open question. Last week, Hillary Clinton told supporters in a meeting in Palo Alto, Calif., posted on YouTube, that she was looking for a "strategy" to keep the peace and that sometimes a "catharsis" is necessary. Her comments were read by some as suggesting that the process could require a roll-call vote that would enumerate her supporters, even though she would still lose the nomination.
"The best way I think to do that is to have a strategy so that my delegates feel like they've had a role and that their legitimacy has been validated," she said.
"It's as old as Greek drama," Clinton said. "There's a catharsis. Everybody comes, and they want to yell and scream and have their opportunity, and I think that's all to the good."
But yesterday, Obama backed away from the idea of using a vote on the convention floor as a venting session.
"I'm letting our respective teams work out the details," he told reporters on his campaign plane when asked about the convention standoff. "I don't think we're looking for catharsis. I think what we are looking for is energy and excitement about the prospects of changing this country, and I think that people who supported a whole range of different candidates during the primaries are going to come out of that convention feeling absolutely determined that we have to take the White House back."
Playing down the competing goals, Obama added: "I spoke to Senator Clinton this week. She's campaigning for me in Nevada and Florida. She is very enthusiastic about the need for a unified party. I think we are going to have a terrific convention. As is true in all conventions, we're still working out the mechanics of the four days. Our staffs are in communication, my staff with Senator Clinton's staff. But I don't anticipate any problems."
Still, some Clinton supporters and delegates are mobilizing to attempt to force a symbolic vote, or at least draw as much attention to the Clinton team as possible during the Denver events. Michele Thomas, 40, a photographer in Los Angeles, said she is helping organize delegates who think that only through a roll call can Clinton be properly honored.
"If the party is speaking about unity, they [the Clinton delegates] believe the only way to unify the party is actually allowing them to vote," Thomas said in a phone interview yesterday. "Moving beyond the convention, if they were not allowed to vote there would be a lot of resentment."
Aides said that the principal players in the negotiations -- about a half-dozen aides on each side, led by Mills and Plouffe -- are largely sanguine about their progress, complaints from Clinton partisans notwithstanding.
Although Obama's vice presidential nominee selection appears to be moving more slowly than some insiders had expected, the tentative convention schedule is beginning to take shape, with Michelle Obama slotted to speak on Monday night, Aug. 25, during the opening of events.
Also slated for that Monday is a tribute to ailing Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) featuring a short biographical film, although the details are still being worked out. Two nights later, officials expect the vice presidential nominee to dominate the stage, along with, potentially, a separate keynote speaker (the role that Obama filled in 2004).
Aides are not yet specifying when Bill Clinton would make his appearance or how it would be shaped. Some Obama advisers have been vexed by the former president's lackluster praise for the presumptive Democratic nominee: Last weekend, in his first extensive interviews since the primaries, Clinton offered tepid praise for Obama, describing him as simply "smart" and a "good politician" and saying there are demographic trends that would "work in any Democrat's favor."
Still, the Clintons -- especially the senator, aides said -- are eager to be seen making an enthusiastic push for Obama. Advisers said the two sides have agreed that, despite the recent awkwardness, the former president should be a part of the convention.
If there is a contested roll-call vote that includes Hillary Clinton's name, it is likely to take place on Wednesday, or perhaps as early as Tuesday night.
The back and forth with Clinton -- as well as questions about whether her husband will actively campaign for Obama after the convention -- threatens to distract attention from what Obama's backers hope will be one of the convention's central themes: change. Planners are hoping to create an event that looks and feels different from past conventions, with more interactive components and an emphasis on the grass roots, in order to mirror the core message of Obama's candidacy.
There will be at least one biographical film on Obama, and a separate Hollywood production may be in the works, people involved in the campaign said. Organizers are hoping to maximize the participation of the Republicans and independents in attendance, and they will focus on first-time convention-goers in addition to using the huge crowds expected to flock to Obama's acceptance speech and other events to organize new voters.
Already, some 60,000 Coloradans have submitted requests for tickets to the Aug. 28 acceptance speech, at the 75,000-seat Invesco Field.
Staff writer Perry Bacon Jr. contributed to this report.