Hillary’s Speech Provides a Relief

Editor’s note: Robert Rupp, a political historian at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon, W.Va., is providing a daily journal of analysis and happenings from the Democratic National Convention.

DENVER – A century ago when Democrats held their first presidential nominating convention at Denver, a woman was seated as a delegate for the first time. On Tuesday, when Democrats assembled for a second time in the Mile High City, a woman spoke who could call on almost half the delegates to support her bid for the presidential nomination.

Hillary Clinton pledged Tuesday that she would not take that option. Instead, she pledged to release her delegates and ask them to work for U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Her words were welcome to Obama supporters.

In many ways, Clinton has hung over this convention like Hamlet’s ghost – her near victory over Obama, her high delegate count and her delayed withdrawal made her Tuesday speech anticipated with both concern and hope.

Her endorsement of Obama was appreciated, and the hope is that concerns will turn into celebration Thursday, when Obama officially receives the Democratic presidential nomination.

The night that ended with Clinton’s speech started Tuesday with a breakfast meeting of the West Virginia delegation, where U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller promoted a message of unity. Noting that “we criticize more easily than we praise,” the senator sounded the theme of the convention when he said, “At Denver, we praise.”

The morning speaker at the delegation breakfast was United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts. Also at the breakfast was Teamster President James Hoffa.

State Democratic Party Chairman Nick Casey told the delegation of plans for an “invasion and peaceful occupation” of the Illinois delegation at 5 p.m. Tuesday. At that time the West Virginia delegation left their seats and moved into seats of the Illinois delegation, which is located in front of the podium.

Viewers saw the result of that plan when a group of friendly and loud supporters greeted Gov. Joe Manchin when he came to the podium to speak.

What viewers did not see was the modern communications technology at the podium. The technologically advanced stage features a large screen for speeches that enables a speaker to look directly at the audience and see the text of their speech without looking down or to the sides.

Viewers also may be wondering about how signs held by the delegates seemingly appear out of thin air, as happened four times on Monday. According to Casey, whose command post at the delegation includes two phones and a computer screen, he is alerted each time signs are distributed and is in charge of telling the delegates when to wave them. The two most notable occasions on Monday occurred with the red Kennedy signs and then the blue Michelle signs, referring to Michelle Obama.

Manchin, who is head of the Democratic Governors Association, offered the public an upbeat story of the Mountain State during his speech.

Another speaker Tuesday was Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton. Strickland pledged his support to Obama and is part of the reason many political analysts believe Ohio is up for grabs in 2008.

In the same manner, even Montana, which last went Democratic in 1964, is considered a possible Democratic gain in part because the state elected a Democratic governor.

In that case the Big Sky state could assume the role West Virginia played in 2000, when it helped swing the election to George Bush after supporting Democratic presidential candidates six out of the last eight times.

Such speculation reflects the changing and competitive landscape of the 2008 presidential race. It also escalates the need for both party unity and outreach.

All of which makes tonight and Thursday very important for the Democratic Party, as since 1944 almost 20 percent of American voters select their candidate during the time of the party conventions. Their perceptions of what they view will impact the person who will rule.