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Friday, August 08, 2008

Obama camp ponders: 'What does Hillary want?'

By Katharine Q. Seelye


Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton asked the question herself, on the last night of the primaries in June: "What does Hillary want?"

That is still a bit of a mystery, particularly as she and Senator Barack Obama negotiate the delicate question of her role at the Democratic convention later this month in Denver and in the campaign beyond. But at least the role of one Clinton - Bill - has been settled.

Both Hillary Clinton and Obama said Thursday that they were still in the discussion phase. Obama, who is to officially receive the Democratic nomination for president at the convention, told reporters on his plane: "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."

In a public peace offering Thursday, the Obama campaign allowed a draft of the party platform to note that Clinton was "the first woman in American history to win presidential primaries in our nation."

It added that the party was "proud that we have put 18 million cracks in the highest glass ceiling," which was Clinton's own formulation of her popular vote total.

This preconvention period is already somewhat fraught for both Clinton and her husband, since the convention will officially mark the changing of the guard in the Democratic Party.

It will be the moment when yet another Democratic presidential nominee will try to do what only one, Bill Clinton, has managed to do in a generation: get elected.

Both Clintons are sensitive to the process of shaping their legacies. At stake are not just their roles at the convention but also how history will treat them, and how Hillary Clinton positions herself for the future.

But the surfacing of a video in which Clinton suggests that her supporters need a "catharsis" after the roller-coaster primary season and that they may place her name in nomination at the convention would seem to add a layer of complexity to the negotiations.

The video was taken July 31 at a cocktail reception in California for supporters of both Clinton and Obama. In response to questions, as various cameras are visible, Clinton says that the best way to unify the party is "to have a strategy so that my delegates feel like they've had a role and that their legitimacy has been validated."

She adds: "It's as old as Greek drama. 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."

Already, some of her supporters are gathering the 300 signatures necessary to put her name in nomination, but she would have to approve such a move, in writing, before it could happen. She has not indicated whether she would approve it, and that is one of the things still under negotiation with the Obama camp.

While the video of Clinton plays on cable television and the Internet, a new video of her husband, in an interview with ABC News, is also playing in its own seemingly endless loop. The striking moment comes when he is not quite able to say that Obama is qualified to be president.

Nonetheless, Bill Clinton was finally offered an invitation Thursday to speak on the second-to-last night of the party's convention, and he accepted it.

As Al Gore learned in 2000, having one Clinton, let alone two, hover over you as you campaign for the presidency can be a trying experience.

The Gore campaign had hoped to choreograph Bill Clinton out of the picture at its convention, in Los Angeles, giving him the prime-time speaking slot Monday and then staging a symbolic "passing of the torch" to Gore the next day in Michigan.

But Bill Clinton started to steal the limelight.

The president arrived in Los Angeles on Friday and was the toast of the town for three days leading up to his convention speech. He then dominated the torch moment in Michigan and continued to preoccupy much of the news media for the rest of the campaign.

Obama has already given Hillary Clinton a speaking role at his convention on the night before her husband's address. So what else does she want?

Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist who has worked at the top levels of several campaigns in such negotiations, said that, generally, defeated candidates want to nail down such things as how they will be used in the autumn campaign and whether the nominee will pay for a separate plane and staff. They usually want to know how big a "show" they will get, he said.


Once the "catharsis" video spread across the blogosphere, many readers commented that Clinton was still angling to become Obama's vice-presidential running mate, although her prospects seem to have dimmed.

One Democratic loyalist with connections to the Clintons said that if Clinton wanted to send Obama a message, she would not have relied on a chat on a random front porch in a video that took several days to become public.

Either way, she does have leverage. Polling shows that Clinton remains as popular among Democrats these days as Obama, despite his having campaigned for two months as the party nominee.

Some of her remarks on the video must be stirring the negotiations. Her goal now, she says in the video, is this: "We do not want any Democrat in the hall or in the stadium or at home walking away saying, 'I'm just not satisfied. I'm not happy.' That's what I'm trying to avoid."

But she seems to give a green light to her supporters to make whatever mischief they might:

"I've made it very clear that I'm supporting Senator Obama and we're working cooperatively on a lot of different matters," she said. "But delegates can decide to do this on their own. They don't need permission."

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