Hillary Clinton will grab the spotlight at the Democratic convention on Tuesday in a speech designed to mend a lingering party rift and rally her frustrated supporters to Barack Obama’s White House bid.
Obama hopes her high-profile appearance can begin to heal the wounds of a bruising nominating battle and win over die-hard Clinton supporters still angry over his narrow triumph and choice of Joe Biden over her for his running mate.
The persistent drama cast a shadow over Monday’s opening day of the convention to crown Obama, 47, a first-term Illinois senator, as the party’s leader and presidential candidate in the November 4 election battle with Republican John McCain.
Obama had tried to ease the tension by giving Clinton, a New York senator, and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, major roles at the convention. Bill Clinton will address the Democrats on Wednesday.
"There are going to be some of Senator Clinton’s supporters who we’re going to have to work hard to persuade to come on board. That’s not surprising," Obama told reporters on Monday.
"But if you take a look, I think, at this week, I am absolutely convinced that both Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton understand the stakes," he said.
Clinton will be symbolically nominated for president on Wednesday, although a roll call vote by states may well be cut short and Obama nominated by acclamation under a deal negotiated by the two camps.
An opinion poll showed how much work remains for Obama. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll said he and McCain were running even at 47 percent — but only 66 percent of Clinton supporters backed Obama, down from 75 percent at the end of June.
Twenty-seven percent of Clinton supporters said they would support McCain, up from 16 percent in late June.
On opening day, convention speakers sought to introduce Obama to Americans and familiarize them with his life story as the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas. He was raised in Hawaii and Indonesia and worked after college as a community organizer in Chicago.
"He was raised by grandparents who were working class folks just like my parents, and by a single mother who struggled to pay the bills just like we did," said Obama’s wife, Michelle, who closed the opening night session.
"HE WILL BE EXTRAORDINARY"
"I come here as a wife who loves my husband and believes he will be an extraordinary president. I come here as a mom whose girls are the heart of my heart and the center of my world," she said.
The emotional highlight of the night was an appearance by ailing party legend Sen. Edward Kennedy, diagnosed with brain cancer in May, who spoke to the convention after a video tribute.
"This November the torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans," Kennedy said, borrowing from the 1961 presidential inaugural speech of his slain brother John Kennedy.
"The work begins anew. The hope rises again and the dream lives on," Kennedy said, echoing his famous 1980 convention speech after losing to Jimmy Carter. At that time he said: "The dream shall never die."
The second night of the convention will focus on economic themes and begin to lay out some of Obama’s proposals to aid lower- and middle-class voters suffering in a faltering U.S. economy, which polls show is the top issue.
The convention’s keynote speaker, filling the role that shot Obama to political fame at the Democratic convention in Boston in 2004, will be former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner. He speaks on Tuesday.
Warner, favored to win his race for the U.S. Senate this year, plans to highlight economic initiatives in Virginia that helped him win over rural voters in normally Republican areas.
Clinton, who is expected to urge her delegates to back Obama, will be introduced by her daughter Chelsea. She got an early start on pushing party unity at an appearance before New York delegates on Monday — although she acknowledged the difficulty in bringing everyone in line.
"We are after all Democrats, so it may take a while," she said. "We’re not the fall-in-line party. We are diverse. But make no mistake, we are unified."