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Clinton seen as key to unity

Sen. Hillary Clinton takes the stage at the Democratic National Convention today, a potentially pivotal moment that could help determine whether the party unifies behind Sen. Barack Obama or continues to harbor divisions.

Clinton stressed anew Monday that she supports Obama and wants the 18 million people who voted for her in the primaries to transfer their allegiance, as well.

“We are here for one purpose,” she told supporters at a Denver hotel Monday, “to give the party momentum going into the general election so that come November, Barack Obama will become the president of the United States.”

Yet signs of trouble for Obama persisted heading into her speech. About half of Clinton's supporters are still not sold on him, polls show, with some leaning Obama's way and others saying flat out they'll vote for McCain.

McCain rushed out a new ad featuring a Clinton supporter saying she'd now vote for the Republican.

McCain also dispatched to Denver one of his most prominent female supporters, former Hewlett-Packard chairman and chief executive Carly Fiorina, to drive the point home.

“The Democratic Party is … still divided,” Fiorina said. “They are not coalesced behind Barack Obama.”

Clinton told delegates Monday that they should ignore a new McCain ad that shows Clinton belittling Obama's readiness to be president.

“John McCain is sending a message,” she said. “I'm here to tell you my name is Hillary Clinton. And I do not support this message.”

A USA Today/Gallup Poll shows that fewer than half of Clinton supporters, 47 percent, are solidly behind Obama. An additional 23 percent said they'd support Obama but might change their minds, and 30percent said they'd vote for McCain.

Obama will need every one of those votes if the November election is as close as polls now suggest.

“He has to do better,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Polling Institute at Quinnipiac University.

“If he wants to win the election, he needs to get the vast majority of Hillary supporters. Her strongest support is where he's weakest: white, working-class men and women.”

Clinton, who'd demanded a roll-call vote for the nomination so all her delegates would have a moment in the spotlight, was negotiating a plan that would have her suspend the Wednesday roll call when it got to her home state of New York, and move to make the nomination unanimous.

Obama's camp was confident she'd use her speech tonight to deliver an enthusiastic call to support Obama. Ultimately, they said Monday, they think her supporters will come to Obama – though they conceded it might not happen this week.

“There is no stronger surrogate for Sen. Obama among Sen. Clinton's supporters than Sen. Clinton,” said senior Obama adviser and family friend Valerie Jarrett.

“So we are confident as we come through this convention that our party will come together … It might take a little time for some people to come around … But we can't let the few voices distort the vast majority of her supporters that I do believe support Sen. Obama.”