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Obama, Clinton Seek Unity In New Hampshire

This story was written by political reporter Brian Montopoli.

Contractor Margie Thomas is exactly the sort of voter the campaign of presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama covets.

She's white. She's a woman. She lives in a swing state. And she voted for Hillary Clinton.

Thomas is standing in front of Will's Place, the general store in the tiny New Hampshire town of Unity. On Friday, at the elementary school just down the road, Clinton and Obama will appear together publicly for the first time since Clinton suspended her campaign three weeks ago.

Thomas is not, she explains, much of a fan of the man who bested Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

"There's certain things about him that I don't care for," she said. "He sounds like a gospel - like he's in church, you know, and that really gets on my nerves. I think Hillary just has really done a lot of good things for regular people, and I just don't know that he's done all that much."

Still, she says she's going to vote for the Illinois senator.

"Do I feel comfortable? Not totally," she says. "I feel comfortable voting for Hillary."

That's good enough for the Obama campaign, which conceived Friday's event as a way to help convince skeptical Clinton voters to pull the lever for the presumptive Democratic nominee in November.

The campaign couldn't resist the metaphorical pull of this town, whose name embodies the Democratic Party's goal over the last few weeks and whose residents split evenly between Clinton and Obama in the state's January 8th primary.

Standing outside his station, volunteer Fire Department Chief Bruce E. Baker describes Unity simply: It's a "very small, rural town," he said, where "not much happens." For fun, he added, residents play horseshoes and fish.

"Most of us, I guess you could say, like to stick to ourselves," added Tim Davis, one of the volunteer fire fighters. "We enjoy the peace and quiet."

At a youth baseball game in the next-door town of Claremont, Kevin Pare watched as his 11-year-old son lined a base hit up the middle.

"I was actually really pulling for Hillary," he said, leaning on a chain-link fence. "Maybe she'll be the vice president. Who knows."

Pare can't make it to the rally because he has to work, though he wishes he could. Asked whom he expects to support in November, Pare said, "I'm kind of leaning with Obama right now."

Most of the other people gathered for the game said they weren't terribly interested in the campaign event.

"I thought it might be nice to have a woman president," said Terra Bunten, not taking her eyes off the field. She supported neither Democrat in the primary, and will not, she said, be backing Obama in November.

Bucky Demers, who lives two towns over in Cornish, is a different story: He brought his race car, which has the words "Obama '08" painted onto the side in large, white letters, to Unity for the rally.

He races the car every Saturday night at a local speedway. "It's out there showing to the crowd," he said.

"I felt good about this guy, and I just said, OK, this is what we're going to put on the car this year," explained Demers.

He characterizes his theory as to why the state went to Clinton over Obama in the primary as "simple": "There's more women in New Hampshire than black people."

He is confident, he added, that the state's residents will come around to Obama in November.

"No more McBush," said Demers, smiling.

An AP-Yahoo News poll out this week found that 53 percent of the Democrats who backed Clinton now say they will support Obama, up from 40 percent in April. Twenty-three percent said they would back presumptive GOP nominee John McCain.

More Coverage From Unity, N.H.:
Clinton Backers Try To Look Past Concerns
A Unified Front For Obama, Clinton
Horserace Blog: Two Clinton Voters On Why They're Not On Board With Obama

Unity is perhaps ill-equipped to become the temporary center of the political universe: The town lacks a restaurant or traffic light, and anyone who wants to get into the rally will have to park in another town, a fact that discouraged more than one resident from attending.

But logistical concerns aren't stopping Thomas, the contractor, who volunteered for Clinton's campaign and said she really wanted to meet the New York senator. "And, of course, Obama too," she added, seemingly as an afterthought.

She explained that while she may not particularly like the presumptive Democratic nominee - "I just think that we don't know everything there is to know about Obama," she said - that's not enough to swing her vote over to McCain.

"I am a Democrat," said Thomas. "And I will vote Democratic. Even if I don't love the nominee. I don't hate him. He just wasn't my first choice."

Click below to watch some of the scene from Unity:

By Brian Montopoli
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