Politics & Government

N.C. Clinton backers slowly accept Obama

On the eve of today's expected nomination of Barack Obama, N.C. delegates sought to present a united front – and most Hillary Clinton supporters were poised to accept the inevitable.

The professions of unity came amid continued wrangling between the Obama and Clinton camps over how and whether to count Clinton's votes.

“For the normal, reasonable Clinton delegates, that's all we're looking for,” said Margaret Haynes of Wilmington. “(We) want respect and recognition of the fact that we're here and part of the process.”

Though Clinton has repeatedly stressed her support for the Illinois senator, the lingering friction between her backers and Obama's has hung over the convention and the election.

One poll this week found only 47 percent of Clinton supporters solidly behind Obama.

That's why, hours before Clinton's speech to the Democratic convention Tuesday, N.C. leaders pushed for harmony.

“Together, we're going to deliver North Carolina for Obama,” said Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Susan Burgess, the leader of the state's Clinton delegates.

And state Rep. Dan Blue, a leader of the Obama faction, praised the delegation's unity.

“And don't let anybody convince you otherwise,” he said.

But some delegates weren't so sure.

Marching for the cause

Marc Friedland of Charlotte joined about 200 other Clinton supporters in an afternoon march downtown.

“Count our votes,” he chanted.

“I've been campaigning three months,” he said later. “Though I've been promised it will be (counted), I don't believe it until I see it.”

When Burgess announced that Clinton had released her delegates Tuesday, Friedland called it a “meaningless gesture.”

Clinton “maintained from the very beginning that delegates can vote for whomever they want to,” said Friedland, formerly the owner of a Charlotte food store.

Like Friedland, Haynes wants to know her vote for Clinton is counted.

“Basically, the primary was a tie,” said the real estate broker. “We know how we're all going to leave here, but it's still important that women have made this progress. … If we're disenfranchised from casting a vote for Hillary Clinton, it will be very difficult to feel a part of a unified process.”

Ann Marie Doherty, an electrical engineer from Asheville, said she had hoped the Obama campaign would reach out to Clinton delegates. But she hasn't seen it.

On the convention floor Monday, Doherty, who was wearing a Clinton button, said an Obama delegate came up to her and told her she needed to back Obama.

“She started yelling at me,” Doherty said. “She was upset at me because I did not have an Obama button on.”

McCain campaign moves in

But other delegates appeared ready to put the split behind them.

“All the Clinton delegates are completely unified around Obama,” said Melissa Reed, a Planned Parenthood administrator from Raleigh. “I know Barack Obama will support policies that support women. And I'm ready to unify.”

Linda Gunter, a Clinton delegate and a Cary teacher, said she felt better about Obama after listening to Michelle Obama on Monday night and said Michelle is helping Clinton supporters adjust to Obama.

“I feel much better,” Gunter said. “I was able to identify with her. She was the first in her family to go to college. She was a working mom.”

A USA Today/Gallup Poll released Monday found that 30 percent of Clinton supporters say they'll either vote for Republican John McCain or stay home.

McCain has tried to take advantage of the Democratic split. This week he began airing a TV ad featuring a Clinton supporter from Wisconsin who promises to vote for McCain.

But in North Carolina, many Clinton supporters vowed to stick with their party. Polly Little of Charlotte was among those advertising their new allegiance.

She sported a button that said, “Hillary supporters for Obama.”

Rob Christensen of the News & Observer contributed.
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