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With Clinton’s journey over, Minnesota supporters embrace party unity

By Doug GrowWednesday, Aug. 27, 2008
DENVER — Hillary Rodham Clinton’s address to the convention unleashes a flood of emotion among her state backers. Yes, they feel bad that the race truly is over now.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, delivering the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention Tuesday night.

DENVER — The journey was over. An hour after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Tuesday night speech, Minnesota delegates to the Democratic National Convention got off the bus that had carried them away from the Pepsi Center and stepped into their hotel lobby.

Everybody, of course, still was buzzing about the speech.

“Brought tears to my eyes,” said Jackie Stevenson, a Minnesota feminist, superdelegate and Clinton admirer.

“Mine, too,” said Mari Pokornowski, a Clinton delegate from Cokato. “It was a great speech. But what got me was watching the response. It was not just the Hillary people who were moved. It was the Obama people, too. It was unity. And when Obama gives his speech, it will be the same thing. It won’t be just Obama people who will respond to him. It will be Hillary people, too. Unity.”

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While she was speaking, a Barack Obama delegate embraced Pokornowski, then Stevenson.

“My Clinton friends,” he said. And then he moved on.

The journey is over, the Clinton supporters kept saying. Obama first, Clinton second. Now, it’s time for the big race.

“It reminds me of the Olympics,” said Pokornowski. “Michael Phelps won some of those races in record times. And the guy who finished second also had a record. He had a great race, but it wasn’t quite good enough.”

Rick Stafford, a superdelegate and a leader of Clinton’s Minnesota campaign, joined the conversation and added to the Olympics analogy. “Remember that one relay?” he said. “The swimmer just touched the wall a finger ahead of the other guy. It was like his finger was just a little longer. That’s the difference we had.”

Judging by the reaction of three of Clinton’s strongest supporters, the speech accomplished so much.

Yes, they felt bad that the race truly is over now. But the speech — the grace of it, the power of it, the empathy of it — justified all the good feelings they’d always had about their candidate.

And that the speech had the Obama supporters standing and cheering for Clinton made the Clinton supporters feel good about Obama. The speech unleashed all sorts of emotions.

“It reminds me of the Olympics. Michael Phelps won some of those races in record times. And the guy who finished second also had a record. He had a great race, but it wasn’t quite good enough.”

— Mari Pokornowski, a Clinton delegate from Cokato

“To me, about a third of the way through the speech, I was reminded of my mother and all that she struggled to do,” said Stafford. “My father died at 37. She was left with five kids — two months to 10 years. What she was talking about reminded me of my mother. You keep going. You get knocked down, you get up and you keep going. I saw that with my mother. She went back to college to get a degree so that she could become a teacher, and she became one. Back then, there was a $500 bonus for heads of households who became teachers. But my mother didn’t get that bonus. It was for men.”

Stafford wondered aloud if younger women really understand what huge hurdles women of only a few years ago had to overcome. “Hillary understood,” he said.

But there wasn’t bitterness in his voice. The old pol in Stafford — he used to be a DFL Party chair — also liked another part of the speech.

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“It was that part where she said, ‘Were you just in this campaign for me,’ ” said Stafford. “And then she listed all these issues and she essentially said if you’re really thinking about supporting John McCain, then you weren’t really supporting Hillary.”

Porkonowski nodded in agreement. “It never really was this group against that group,” she said. “In the end, the truth is, we support each other. We both took this great leap forward. We both believed in something historic. Now, we have to celebrate our friend’s success.”

And Stevenson, who wanted as much as anyone anywhere to see a woman become president, agreed. “That’s the only way it can be,” she said. “We must celebrate together.”

As a postscript to the speech and the emotions it evoked, the DFL called a 6:45 a.m. news conference his morning. The party was bringing together Walter Mondale, Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, former Sen. Mark Dayton and Melanie Benjamin, chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. All were Clinton supporters.

Mondale was seen roaming the halls of the hotel late Tuesday night.

“I’ll tell you a little secret,” he said. “I think it’s a safe bet we’re all going to support Barack Obama.”

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.