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Clinton: 'A Single Party With A Single Purpose'

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Last night at the Democratic Convention in Denver, Hillary Clinton gave a forceful endorsement of Barack Obama. She urged her supporters to do the same. The keynote speaker was Virginia senatorial candidate Mark Warner, but he was overshadowed by the most anticipated speech of the week.

Senator Clinton was a close runner-up to Obama in the primaries and last night she said it was time for the party to unify behind his candidacy. Now it's up to her delegates to decide whether they will heed her call. We have two stories. First, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON: Political conventions are scripted events, four-day infomercials, where the nominee's campaign is usually in complete control of the party's message. So to the extent there was a suspense here in Denver, it centered around Hillary Clinton and how she would handle the catharsis she said her supporters needed before they rallied behind Obama.

She answered that question within seconds of walking out on the podium to a roaring ovations.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): My friends...

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. CLINTON: It is time to take back the country we love. And whether you voted for me or you voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: Clinton paid tribute to her champions. She called them my sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits, and said that together they had made history. She thanked her supporters, the struggling working class Americans who became her voting base during the long primary battle with Obama.

Sen. CLINTON: You allowed me to become part of your lives and you became part of mine. I will always remember the single mom who had adopted two kids with autism. She didn't have any health insurance and she discovered she had cancer, but she greeted me with her bald head, painted with my name on it, and asked me to fight for health care for her and her children.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: Aides say in private Clinton is still struggling with her own anger and disappointment, but last night she encouraged her delegates to get over it.

Sen. CLINTON: I want you to ask yourselves, were you in this campaign just for me or were you in it for that young Marine and others like him? Were you in it for that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids? Were you in it for that young boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage?

LIASSON: And she argued that no matter how painful the process of rallying behind the nominee may be for some of her supporters, the stakes are too high to do anything other than unite.

Sen. CLINTON: This will not be easy. Progress never is. But it will be impossible if we don't fight to put a Democrat back into the White House.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: The convention had been buzzing about whether Clinton's embrace of Obama would be heartfelt, but to Harold Ickes, one of her top campaign strategists, there was never any doubt that she would do everything she could to bring the party together.

Mr. HAROLD ICKES (Clinton Strategist): It's in the country's interest, but it's clearly in her very narrow political self-interest to be for him full-throated.

LIASSON: Anything that could be seen as undermining Obama, says Ickes, could also undermine Clinton's future in the Democratic Party.

Mr. ICKES: If he doesn't win, she will be seen - especially being a Clinton - she will be seen as not having fully supported him and it will be held against her big time by serious constituencies, starting with African-Americans.

LIASSON: Last night Clinton left no doubt where she stood in support of Obama, but she did something more - she took the fight to John McCain. McCain has been trying to exploit the rift in the Democratic Party with a series of ads using Clinton's words from the primaries.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Unidentified Man: Uncertainty, dangerous aggression, rogue nations, radicalism...

Sen. CLINTON: I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience that he will bring to the White House, and Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002.

Unidentified Man: Hillary's right: John McCain for president.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona, Presidential Nominee): I'm John McCain and I approved this message.

LIASSON: Clinton reacted to that by saying I'm Hillary Clinton and I do not approve that message. And her attacks last night were as tough as the Democrats have been clamoring for.

Sen. CLINTON: Well, John McCain says the economy is fundamentally sound. John McCain doesn't think 47 million people without health insurance is a crisis. John McCain wants to privatize Social Security, and in 2008 he still thinks it's okay when women don't earn equal pay for equal work.

(Soundbite of booing)

Sen. CLINTON: Now, with an agenda like that, it makes perfect sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities, because these days they're awfully hard to tell apart.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: When the convention began, there were plenty of diehard Hillary delegates who said no matter what she said they would not support Obama. But after Clinton's speech last night there were probably fewer of them.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mara Liasson
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.