Prominent Mainers attending the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday played down questions of party unity as delegates waited to see how long it takes for Hillary Rodham Clinton delegates and supporters to get behind presumptive presidential nominee Barack Obama.
Rep. Tom Allen, who announced his support for Obama in May, said the convention follows a bruising nomination struggle between Clinton and Obama, “the largest struggle for a nomination I can remember … like watching a 28-round heavyweight fight.”
But Allen, a superdelegate and U.S. Senate candidate who is scheduled to address the Denver convention Wednesday, said he’s confident that by the four-day convention’s end on Thursday the party will be unified.
Gov. John Baldacci, a superdelegate and early supporter of Clinton who endorsed Obama after Clinton ended her campaign, pitched party unity in a breakfast address to his fellow delegates, superdelegates and their guests Tuesday morning in Denver. In a phone interview later, he said efforts to unify the two senators’ forces were under way, but more needed to be done.
Obama forces are recognizing Clinton’s efforts to shatter the “glass ceiling” that constrains women’s ambitions, Baldacci said.
“It’s beginning to be recognized. It has to be part of our party’s dialogue,” Baldacci said. “We’ve got to work at this together.”
Another step toward bringing the party together, Baldacci said, was having both Hillary and Bill Clinton speak at the convention, and selecting Sen. Joe Biden as vice presidential candidate.
“He’s a good one for punching back. In the last two weeks or so, Obama’s been somewhat on the defensive,” the governor said.
As of Tuesday, 23 of Maine’s delegates and superdelegates were pledged to Obama, while nine were in Clinton’s column.
Sam Spencer, a national committeeman who endorsed Obama in June, said Hillary Clinton’s speech, combined with Michelle Obama’s remarks Monday that were complimentary to the New York senator, work toward party unity.
Spencer said that while he’s surprised it’s taken this long to bring the sides together, “I suspect that by Thursday all of the Hillary Clinton delegates will be enthusiastically saying ‘Yes We Can,”’ a reference to an Obama campaign slogan.
Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean also addressed party unity during an impromptu breakfast talk to Maine delegates Tuesday, but he also spoke of the importance of Maine despite its relatively small electoral vote count in what could be a very close presidential election.
Dean also rallied the party activists behind Allen in the six-term congressman’s race against two-term GOP Sen. Susan Collins, saying the Senate race is key as Democrats try to build on their thin 51-49 majority.
Allen, in a conference call with Maine reporters, also dismissed surveys that show Collins with more support, saying “they frankly matter very little.”
“We believe from our research that we are going to win,” said Allen. “This is a race I expect to win.”