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Clinton supporters slowly enter the fold

LANGLEY — Never has the nation seen as many blue “Unity” signs being waved as this week during the National Democratic Convention in Denver.

But national polls show that presidential nominee Barack Obama still needs to win the hearts of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s supporters.

And polls indicate that he needs that missing sliver of the Democratic base very badly. Obama and Sen. John McCain are tied nationally in several major polls — a development that has flabbergasted many local Democrats.

A USA Today/Gallup survey found only half of Clinton’s supporters are definitely behind Obama, a finding backed up by a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, that concluded that a fifth of Clinton voters plan to vote for McCain and another 10 percent may stay home.

But it appears that on Whidbey Island, Clinton’s plea to support Obama has resonated with even her most-committed supporters.

Until Clinton asked her “sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits” to join Obama’s effort Tuesday, Mary Sandford and Eileen Jackson of Langley — who both fought for Clinton’s nomination to the bitter end — were not certain what they would do on Nov. 4.

But Sandford said Clinton’s actions earlier in the week convinced her.

The roll call vote at the Democratic Convention was suspended Wednesday when Clinton moved that the delegates vote to elect Obama as the nominee by acclamation.

“I am incredibly proud to have served as an organizer for Sen. Clinton,” said Sandford, who was a local coordinator in the effort to get Clinton elected.

“I learned a lot from that experience, and I’ve learned a lot by watching the example of

Sen. Clinton’s bold and gracious leadership.”

Sandford said she got involved in politics at a young age, and the speech that Clinton delivered at the convention was among the most outstanding ones she had ever heard.

“Hillary has taught us that the election is not about her, or any one person, just as she reminded us that when we caucus, it is not a vote cast just for ourselves. Rather, the election is about the people and problems who have been erased — rendered invisible — by this Republican administration,” Sandford said.

“My hope for the future is that we will be able to truly move forward in this country by learning to listen compassionately with one another, appreciate differences of opinion and background, and work together with great urgency to ameliorate the many problems before us,” she said.

Sandford had the opportunity to see Clinton several times during this election season and to talk briefly with her about her efforts in the 1980s with Sandford’s mother through committee work in Arkansas.

“The last time I saw Hillary was in May in Washington, D.C. at a fundraiser honoring generations of women. I honored my mother and her work on issues of poverty and inequality,” she recalled.

“Hillary has demonstrated she is in public service to help others and she has matured into a wise stateswoman and a workhorse senator,” Sandford said.

“She will continue to fight for the people and causes she cares deeply about and she will work tirelessly for Sen. Obama’s election.”

Jackson was one of the most outspoken Clinton supporters on South Whidbey, and so it’s not surprising that a bit of frustration and sadness is still reflected in her remarks. As a nurse, she had high hopes for Clinton’s healthcare plans.

Jackson is still not convinced that Obama is the best choice for America, but she said another Republican president is unacceptable.

“I am an anti-imperialist. I want to see the U.S. become a partner with other nations, not dominate them,” she said. “Barack has become the candidate of the ruling elite and has swung further and further toward Republican positions on nuclear power, offshore drilling, abortion and gay marriage, among others. He has the support of the Democratic party machine,” Jackson said.

And that party machine may have cost Clinton the nomination, she said.

“Hillary has been ‘whited-out,’ erased from the Democratic Convention. Speakers were directed not to mention her name and they have complied. Hillary delegates were taken aside and have been told that if they vote for Hillary they will have no future in the Democratic Party,” Jackson said.

“Feminists are invisible at this convention, and have been shut out of the party. Gay people have been sold out on gay marriage and the social and economic rights that marriage would afford them,” she added. “I am thoroughly disgusted.”

But she will set her disappointment aside when it comes time to fill out the ballot.

“I will vote for Barack Obama because, like Hillary, I know we can’t afford McCain and more of the same,” she said.

That said, she will make sure that some of Clinton’s programs come to fruition under Obama’s leadership.

“The future of her healthcare plan now lies in Obama’s hands,” Jackson said. “My commitment is to join with Hillary and other supporters and other peace-loving people to ensure that Obama lives up to the promises he makes.”

Carolyn Tamler, who is the Whidbey coordinator for MoveOn and a longtime Obama supporter, said she hopes to bring the two camps on the island together.

Tamler said she wants to reach out to the Clinton backers on the island and hopes they will join her campaigning. Emotions ran high at times between the Clinton and Obama supporters on Whidbey, mostly during the caucuses in early February, where Obama took 68 percent of the vote and the days that followed.

However, Tamler said they all now share a common goal: a Democrat in the White House.

“It’s almost like living in a nightmare and knowing it’s about to end,” Tamler said.

She said the convention helped to unite.

“I felt very proud to be a Democrat and a woman,” she said.

“As a woman, I’ve been proud to see Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton deliver these amazing speeches,” Tamler added.

Now, she said, it’s time to unite behind one candidate.

“Clinton used the perfect line: ‘Did you vote for me or did you vote for what I stand for?’” she said.

Diane Jhueck, who is also a local Obama campaign organizer, said success is becoming more certain.

Even though some Clinton supporters had hoped that Clinton would get the vice-president job, Obama chose Sen. Joe Biden.

“I think that the selection of Joe Biden as a running mate is just one more example of Obama’s excellent judgment and commitment to bringing our country back to health and to the achievement of our best potential,” she said.

“Even the Republican candidate is on record as being in agreement on this point, stating that Biden was a wise choice.”

After the rough nomination campaign, Jhueck was pleased with Clinton’s move.

“Hillary Clinton’s speech and call for the suspension of the roll call vote were two of the best examples I have experienced, in recent memory, of honor, bravery and putting the well-being of our country first,” she said. “I think both of the Clintons have conducted themselves with grace and elegance.”

“I was deeply impacted by Michelle Obama’s speech and by the video of her upbringing.

“It was a beautiful view into a future in which all of America is represented and welcome at every level of society. Happy tears came to my heart as I contemplated that as a true possibility,” Jhueck added.

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