Obama downplays tension with Clinton

August 7, 2008 12:49:58 PM PDT
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Thursday dismissed suggestions that the nominating convention could be marred by tensions between his supporters and the die-hard backers of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Obama told reporters that their staffs were working out mutually agreeable convention logistics. At the same time, Clinton was assuring her supporters in an online chat that she and Obama were "working together to make sure it's a big success."

Neither directly answered questions about whether Clinton's name should be placed in nomination so that her backers could record their votes.

Obama clinched the nomination after a sometimes bitter primary contest with Clinton. Amid reports that some Clinton backers hope to raise her profile at the convention or even continue to push her candidacy, Clinton and Obama were publicly trying to ease the strained relations that exist between some of their supporters.

Flying home to Chicago, Obama told reporters on his campaign plane that he talked separately this week to Clinton and her husband, the former president, and that they were enthusiastic about having a smooth convention at the end of the month in Denver.

"As is true in all conventions, we're still working out the mechanics, the coordination," Obama said. One such issue is whether there will be a convention roll call on Clinton's nomination, he said.

"I'm letting our respective teams work out details," he said.

Asked if that meant he wouldn't object to her name being placed in nomination and a vote taken, Obama said: "I didn't say that. I said that they're working it out."

Clinton has not said whether she will seek a formal vote on her bid for the nomination. For the online chat on her Web site, she wrote that she and Obama will ensure Democrats are "fully unified."

Clinton was expected to deliver a prime-time address to delegates on Aug. 26, the second night of the convention. With the delegate roll call planned for the next evening, Obama was set to accept the nomination with a speech on its fourth and final night.

"We will ensure that the voices of everyone who participated in this historic process are respected and our party is fully unified heading into the November election," Clinton wrote. "While no decisions have been made yet, I will make sure that we keep you up to date and involved with all of the convention activity."

Obama was asked whether allowing Clinton's name to be placed in nomination might lead to a catharsis for the party, an emotional coming together that relieves pent-up stress.

"I don't think we're looking for catharsis. I think what we're looking for is energy and excitement," he said.

In the Web chat, one person asked Clinton directly: "Are you truly supporting Sen. Obama and encouraging your supporters to do the same or are you just saying what you have to?" Clinton insisted she was sincerely behind Obama.

Another questioner wanted to know if there was "any possibility" her name would be placed in nomination, arguing that doing so "would at least give your supporters a voice in the choice for the party's nominee." She was noncommittal.

As to those avid Clinton supporters who still haven't warmed up to him and may even resent him, Obama said, "We're not talking to those people, we're talking directly to the Clinton campaign people and staff."

Another participant in the Clinton chat posted a note saying he hopes Clinton becomes Obama's running mate. In her response, Clinton repeated that she will do whatever Obama asks her to do but it is his decision "and I am going to respect the privacy of that process by not discussing it."

The Clintons' stance toward Obama's candidacy is being closely scrutinized as the convention nears - particularly after remarks Bill Clinton made earlier this week during a trip to Africa. Asked whether Obama was prepared to become president, the former president replied, "You can argue that nobody is ready to be president," and said he himself learned a lot in his first year on the job.

The remark was widely viewed as tepid and unenthusiastic, particularly in light of Republican candidate John McCain's frequent criticism that Obama is not ready to be president.

--- Associated Press writer Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report.