BY LINDA KILLIAN
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS
DENVER — The state’s delegation to the Democratic National Convention being held here this week arrived over the weekend and prepared for one of the most highly anticipated Democratic conventions in recent memory.
On Sunday afternoon Maine Democratic Party executive director Arden Manning and John Hennessey, another representative from the state, were in their seats in the Pepsi Center convention hall to the right of the stage for a sound check with Democratic National Committee officials and party representatives from other states.
After that, state leaders were planning to head over to INVESCO Field at Mile High Stadium for a similar look around. Sen. Barack Obama is scheduled to accept his party’s nomination there Thursday night because it is has a much larger seating capacity and members of the public will be permitted to attend.
Obama’s acceptance speech will take place on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial.
Betty Johnson, 68, of Lincolnville, Maine, arrived in Denver on Saturday and said there is a lot of excitement among the delegates because it is “an historic year.”
Johnson, a delegate pledged to Sen. Hillary Clinton, said that the Clinton delegates have not yet been released to vote for Obama, although there is not going to be a formal roll-call vote for Clinton, as some Clinton supporters had called for.
“Of course I wanted Hillary to win,” she said, expressing disappointment at the way things have turned out. “The Clinton people are upset … but we do have to come together. We do have to be a united party.”
Johnson has been chosen to be the floor representative from the Clinton campaign to the Maine delegation. She has been told that organizers from the Clinton camp will be meeting with these delegation representatives, whom they have labeled “whips,” this afternoon and that Clinton will be speaking with all of her delegates Wednesday afternoon before the roll-call vote of delegates that night.
Johnson said she believes the purpose of these meetings is “so we can avoid any embarrassing moments for Hillary and for the senator [Obama]” on the floor of the convention hall. Johnson said she expects the Clinton operatives will answer questions from the delegates and tell them how they expect them to behave in the hall.
“There is a lot of confusion because Obama is the nominee, but we haven’t been released yet,” she said.
This is Johnson’s third convention, but she said she has never been a delegate for a candidate who was not the party’s nominee, “so this is a different experience for me.”
The convention will open tonight with a tribute to Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who is suffering from a brain tumor. Also scheduled to speak tonight are Michelle Obama and other members of the Obama family.
On Tuesday evening Sen. Clinton will be the headline prime-time speaker, and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who is running for the Senate, will deliver the keynote address.
Clinton supporters and delegates are expected to listen keenly to Clinton’s remarks. Polls have shown many Clinton primary voters have not yet switched allegiance to Obama and are undecided at this point about whom they intend to vote for in November.
It is believed that choosing Sen. Joseph Biden as the vice presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket will appeal to the lower- and middle-class voters, often known as “Reagan Democrats,” who in large numbers supported Clinton during the primaries.
Biden will address the convention Wednesday night. Also speaking Wednesday will be former President Clinton, although his speech is not scheduled to be carried live by the major broadcast networks, which are scheduled to give the convention just one hour of live coverage each night from 10 to 11 EST.
Johnson said she is lukewarm about the selection of Biden. “It wouldn’t have been my choice, but I can see the reasons for it. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Other Maine delegates who are Obama supporters were more enthusiastic about the selection of Biden.
Scott Ruffner of Bangor called it “a great choice” and said Biden brings foreign policy credentials to the ticket.
“When the message gets beyond the personalities, the Clinton voters are going to understand that we are all in this together. I think we’re going to see a very strong, unified party after this convention,” he said.
This is the first convention that state Rep. Hannah Pingree has attended as a delegate, and she said, “In a way I’m not quite sure what to expect.”
Pingree said she hopes the Clinton and Obama people come together.
“I was very torn myself for a little while, and I have some colleagues in the House who are Clinton delegates … I’m hopeful she will give a good speech and unite the party.”
“We’re going to hit the ground running after the convention,” Ruffner predicted. “Many people are saying this is the most important election in our lifetime.”
Linda Killian is a professor of journalism and the director of Boston University’s Washington Center. She is working on a book on the Democratic Party and is currently a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.