Maryland's Clinton Supporters Grapple With How to Cast Their Vote


DENVER (Aug. 24, 2008)—Maryland's most committed Hillary Clinton delegates intend to use their roll call vote as a tribute to the New York senator's unsuccessful, but historic, candidacy at the Democratic National Convention this week.

However, Barack Obama supporters - as well as many one-time Clinton supporters in Maryland, where she lost the Feb. 12 election by a 25-point margin - worry that keeping Clinton's name on the roll will only stretch a rift torn in the party by this spring's bitter Democratic primary.

To Bernard Young, a Baltimore city councilman who is a pledged delegate for Clinton, the possibility of broadening the schism within the party is an unnecessary risk. If she had wanted her delegates to vote for her, it would have divided the convention, Young said.

"She already released her delegates to vote for him," Young said. "I'm going with Obama."

On Aug. 14, the two campaigns announced that Clinton's name would be included in the Wednesday roll call vote that determines the Democratic nominee. "Senator Obama's campaign encouraged Senator Clinton's name to be placed in nomination as a show of unity and in recognition of the historic race she ran and the fact that she was the first woman to compete in all of our nation's primary contests," according to the joint press release.

The Clinton campaign later told delegates in conference calls that they were free to choose Obama at the convention. Most heeded the call.

"I'm now a full fledged Obama supporter," said Angela Alsobrooks, a pledged Clinton delegate and executive director of the Prince George's County Revenue Authority. "I think everybody understands the need for unity at this point," she said.

But others, many of whom were deeply committed to Clinton's candidacy from its early days, are reluctant to give up what they view as a historical moment that slipped out from under them. "I think it's pretty historic to have a woman do as well as she's done and it honors her," said Nancy Voss, a retired kindergarten teacher from Denton who is pledged to Clinton.

Asked if she would use her vote to honor the woman who earned more than 1,900 delegates in the primaries and nearly became the first female candidate of a major U.S. political party, Voss said she hadn't decided yet, even though Clinton had "made it pretty much clear she wants us to get behind Barack."

Party leaders, including Clinton herself, have put a premium on leaving the Denver convention with a strong, unified party prepared to take on John McCain this fall. But some believe the bitterness of Clinton's most ardent supporters will hurt Obama this fall as disappointed voters choose to stay home on election day, or vote in anger for John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.

Many Democrats, including some of Maryland's Clinton delegates, would prefer to silence Clinton's votes in the roll call.

Zealous Clinton supporters don't see it that way. "It infuriates me, why would the Democratic Party not want to celebrate a woman that got a substantive number of votes. For the Democratic Party to even consider not allowing Hillary Clinton's name to be included in the roll is insulting to the women throughout this country," said Mary Boergers, a Clinton delegate from Chevy Chase and former state senator.

While the "unity" camp worries that Clinton's name will provoke further division, Boergers doesn't believe such a divide will hurt the party going into the fall.

"What people have to understand is the party is divided. It's the thing that makes the Democratic Party so strong. That we embrace different points of view," she said.

In Boergers' view, the roll call will be a cathartic release. "People need to have their voices heard," she said.

Surprisingly, this is the view of a handful of Maryland's Obama delegates as well. They consider a roll call that includes Clinton's name as a chance to dismiss the feeling among Clintonites that the Obama win wasn't entirely fair, either because of Democratic Party rules that excluded Michigan and Florida from the election or because of unfair and sexist media bias.

"It puts to bed that something else could have been... Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee," said Roxanne Taylor, an Obama delegate from Bowie who joined her candidate's campaign in its exploratory phase.

Lynn Novelli, an Obama delegate from Gaithersburg, said she expects some Clinton supporters to vote for their candidate at the convention, and perhaps to even carry a grudge after coming home from Denver. But many powerful women in Montgomery County were avid Clinton fans from the outset, Novelli said, and now, even these political veterans tend to think, "we've picked our nominee, let's move on."

Capital News Service reporter Ashley M. Lewis contributed to this report.

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