Clinton, Obama Emphasize Party Unity At N.C.'s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner

This story was written by Chris Allred,

Members of the North Carolina Democratic Party came together Friday night for the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Dorton Arena but showed differences in support for their two presidential candidates.

Both Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke at the event.

Clinton spoke before a crowd of chanting supporters, detractors and party leaders, and said the party will unite around its nominee.

"If Senator Obama is the nominee, you better believe I will work my heart out for him," Clinton said.

"The stakes are too high" for the Democrats to not unite around one candidate, she said.

In his speech, Obama agreed that he would support Clinton in "a heartbeat" if she were the nominee.

While Clinton spoke about her plan to eliminate the gas tax for the summer, it was greeted with opposition and chants from Obama supporters in the crowd.

"Energy traders are manipulating the market, taking advantage of this opportunity to make money at our expense," Clinton said.

Obama later said it would be false to suggest that "30 cents a day for three months [is] a real energy [solution]," and that Clinton's plan would be "offering the same things that John McCain is offering on the cheap."

Clinton said she is willing to fight for the American people.

"What we need is action," she said. "We need a president who knows what it takes and has what it takes to move us forward."

Gov. Mike Easley was also booed when he stepped onstage to speak but talked about party unity through the noise.

"In this room tonight, we have the next president of the United States," he said.

Josh Mills, a recent N.C. State graduate, said Obama was inspiring.

"He's the real deal -- he's the main show," he said.

Mills, however, said Clinton was effective in her speech.

"She did a good job of unifying the crowd," he said.

John Fitz-Henley, a Durham resident who brought his wife and two sons to the event, said his support of Obama is personal.

"Our country is in serious need of healing on matters of race," Fitz-Henley said. "Because of the very significant differences in how black people and white people view life, it's exceptionally rare that you will find a black male that appeals to [blacks and a white majority]."

Loretta Martin, who is running for county commissioner in Davidson County, said Clinton is more ready to lead.

"She has the experience we need to lead this country," she said. "I feel very strongly that it's time for a woman [to be president]."

The dinner also hosted candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. Senate and other positions.