As supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton fortified themselves Monday for the first night of the Democratic National Convention, alongside throngs of Barack Obama supporters wearing his buttons, they had her on their minds — not him.
Most Clinton backers acknowledge they’ll inevitably support the Illinois senator for whom they came all the way to Denver. But as the convention opened, some couldn't help but wonder that this could have been — even should have been — her party, not his. And up until last weekend, when Obama tapped Delaware Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate, they held out hope that it wouldn't just be his convention, it would be theirs.
"I'm very upset," said Mary Fierro, a California delegate who logged countless hours working in Clinton's Fresno phone bank during the primaries. "I really, really felt like she was the most qualified candidate. He's new, he's inexperienced.”
"Hillary, on the other hand, has so much to offer," she added.
Fierro wore a Hillary Clinton for President button Monday as she attended state delegation meetings and another gathering of the Hispanic Caucus. She vowed to "be with Hillary all the way," saying she would be casting a roll call vote for the New York senator Wednesday night.
On Tuesday, in prime time, Clinton will address the convention in what the Obama campaign hopes will be a rousing unity speech.
But other delegates and supporters said they felt the same way as Fierro — eager to stick with Clinton now — and for what may develop for her down the long and winding political road ahead.
Patricia Bakalian, a delegate from Santa Cruz, Calif., and a Democrat for 35 years, said Clinton was mistreated by the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party. And Bakalian and a group of 300 other delegates got together last month to urge that Clinton's name be placed in nomination.
"Bottom line is, I would never vote for John McCain," she said. "But I am undecided."
The latest USA Today/Gallup poll shows that Fierro, Bakalian and others are not alone. Fewer than half of Clinton's supporters say they will definitely vote for Obama in November. The survey said 47 percent of Clinton supporters said they are "solidly behind Obama." And 23 percent said they support the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee but "may change their minds before the election."
Obama campaign spokesman Nick Shapiro looked for the bright side.
“We’ve been very pleased that so many who supported Sen. Clinton in the primary have taken active roles in the Obama campaign,” he said, “organizing, raising money, and most importantly, talking to their friends and neighbors about the clear choice in this election.”
On Monday, Clinton spent the morning urging her supporters to unite behind Obama.
"We're gathered here in Denver for a very clear and specific purpose," the New York senator said at breakfast meeting of the New York delegation. "And that purpose is to elect Barack Obama president of the United States. ... Now, I ask each and every one of you to work as hard for Barack Obama as you worked for me."
"Make no mistake about it," she declared. "We are united."
Later, at a meeting with members of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus, she repeated the same unity message as the crowd chanted, "Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!"
For a brief moment, as the former first lady waved to supporters and they stood on chairs to catch a glimpse of her, it felt like her convention.
"Sure, I wish this was her convention, absolutely," said Terry McAuliffe, her campaign fundraiser and confidant.
"Why would you not let her have her moment?" he asked. "Let her speak, let her unite the party, and when she finished her speech we'll be uited and fired up like a rocket."
One delegate from California, Marisa Yeager, smiled as she glanced at Clinton, making the convention rounds Monday, but has moved on. She wore a button that said Hillary Supporter for Obama and said she was ready to throw her support behind the Illinois senator.
"This is definitely a little bittersweet," Yeager said. "We all wanted the Clinton-Obama dream ticket. But I am completely supportive of Sen. Obama. It's time to bring everyone together."
Curley Clark, a delegate from Mississippi, a Clinton supporter agreed.
"There are some wounds, some deep wounds, and the Obama campaign definitely has their work cut out for them, but let's move on," he said.
Still, some Clinton supporters can't help but look back and wonder.
"Of course I'm disappointed," said Peggy Davis, an alternate delegate from North Carolina who walked near the convention hall, carrying a canvas bag that read “Support Hillary.”
"I always liked her," Davis said. "I felt like she would have been the better nominee."
Davis' husband, Donald, a delegate, agreed. While the Raleigh lawyer supports Obama, he and other friends who are delegates "feel she's not getting the respect she deserves."
Davis plans to also vote for Clinton in the roll call vote.
"The race ended in a virtual tie," he said. "It's not like there was a runaway winner."
"You have to give her credit," Davis added.