(UNITY, N.H.) This town of just more than 1,700 people will today host an event that, during the most contentious days of the nomination battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, some Democrats feared would never come. But their joint public appearance this afternoon – the first since Clinton suspended her campaign three weeks ago – was never in quite as much jeopardy as fearful Democrats (and an obsessively speculating media) seemed to think.
That's because the party insiders and elected officials known as superdelegates always had the power to settle even the closest of races long before the party's convention in Denver. More importantly, they had the incentive to do so: After eight years of what many Democrats feel was the worst presidency in modern history, the vast majority were not going to risk their party's chances at taking back power by dithering between two candidates who, ultimately, were remarkably similar on the issues.
Many still harbor painful memories of the Democratic convention in 1980, where Jimmy Carter ended up essentially chasing rival Ted Kennedy around the stage in an effort to join hands for a show of party unity after a tough primary fight. It was an undignified moment for the president, who never quite caught his vanquished rival. (Here's how Walter Cronkite described the scene: "Sen. Kennedy leaves the stand, sober, unsmiling. There will be no pictures in tomorrow morning's paper, and none for posterity, of Ted Kennedy holding Jimmy Carter's hand aloft.")
Today's event, by contrast, will serve as a demonstration of a successful move towards party consolidation, one taking place long before the convention. Clinton's donors – whom CBS News political consultant Joe Trippi characterized in a conversation with Horserace this week as "probably the greatest collection of big dollar Democrats ever put together" – have gradually put aside their reservations about Obama, in part simply because they want to get on board with the man who came out on top. "These are people who want to support whomever the Democratic nominee is," Trippi said. Last night, many of those donors met with Obama and Clinton for an upbeat gathering at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC.
Clinton herself is too smart to be seen holding a grudge: She knows it is in her political interests, not to mention her ideological ones, to do everything she's asked to help her former rival. (Doing so also doesn't hurt her efforts to retire her significant campaign debt.) Her husband is a somewhat harder nut to crack: Bill Clinton's tepid endorsement of Obama this week, issued through a spokesman, looked like evidence of his continuing anger towards the presumptive nominee. The former president believes that Obama ran against his presidential record and thinks his campaign falsely implied that he is a racist, and those wounds have yet to heal. But the Obama campaign assumes, probably correctly, that Bill will eventually come on board.
So while the metaphor may be a bit obvious, today's event here in the tiny town of Unity does seem to reflect a relatively successful movement towards party togetherness after a tough and tight primary battle. "I haven't seen the party this united this early in a long time," Trippi said. For Democrats who feared a contested and bitter fight all the way to the convention, that has to be a relief.
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