Returning to a state that gave her a signal primary victory, Hillary Clinton preached Democratic unity in Henderson on Friday, making a case for her supporters to get behind her onetime rival, presumptive presidential nominee Barack Obama.
"We had a hard-fought primary campaign, and it was exciting," Clinton told the crowd of more than 1,000 at Green Valley High School. "It was like the proverbial roller coaster. But we are now unified and ready to go forward together, and it is imperative that each and every one of us think about how we are going to help in this election."
Since she conceded the nomination to Obama in June, questions about Democratic unity have swirled around Clinton, who at this time last year was thought to be the unstoppable front-runner.
With Friday’s speech, her first solo campaign appearance for Obama, Clinton aimed to dispel those questions and convince her loyalists to rally to the greater Democratic cause.
"I know Senator Obama," Clinton said. "I’ve served with him now for nearly four years in the United States Senate. I’ve campaigned with him and against him for more than 16 months on the campaign trail. I stood on stage with him for 22 debates — but who’s counting.
"I have seen his passionate determination, his grace and his grit," she added. "In his own life, he has lived the American dream, and what he wants to do is make sure that the dream is possible for everyone."
A vocal faction of Clinton supporters say they can’t stomach Obama — people like Las Vegan Lillian Livoti, 55, who attended Clinton’s speech on Friday. Livoti said she will stay home on Nov. 4 if Clinton is not on the ticket as Obama’s running mate, something political analysts consider unlikely.
"I really don’t think that he’s ready to lead," Livoti said of Obama. "I find him very inexperienced. He reminds me of my 35-year-old nephew."
Livoti said the talk of disunity in the Democratic ranks is justified. She said several of her friends, all "Hillary girls," are planning to vote for McCain. "We feel there’s been a great injustice," she said.
Clinton drew overflowing crowds in the runup to the Jan. 19 Nevada caucuses, especially in Southern Nevada, her stronghold. On Friday, the high school gymnasium where she spoke wasn’t quite full.
Rather than talk up Obama’s personal qualities, Clinton, in her pragmatic style, stressed issues like health care and jobs to argue that Obama was the right candidate.
She reminded the crowd that Democrats have won only three of the last 10 presidential elections and said they will need all the help they can get this year.
"Winning a presidential election in the fall is challenging for Democrats," she said. "It has been for 40 years and it will be again this time, which is why Senator Obama needs all of us. He needs us working for him so that he then can go to work for us."
Clinton argued that Obama’s opponent, Republican Sen. John McCain, would continue the policies of President Bush.
"In the end, Senator McCain and President Bush are like two sides of the same coin, and it doesn’t amount to a whole lot of change," she quipped.
In what her staff said Clinton plans to make a prominent criticism of McCain, she stressed the issue of equal pay for women, noting that McCain voted against a Senate bill to bolster women’s right to sue for gender discrimination after a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year sharply limited the timing of such lawsuits.
"If you care about equal pay, then the choice in November is anything but equal," she said. "Barack Obama will side with women and families."
Clinton also criticized McCain for voting against government funding for child care, against raising the minimum wage and against increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit.
"Anyone who voted for me or caucused for me has so much more in common with Senator Obama than with Senator McCain," she said. "I urge you to remember who we were fighting for in my campaign."
In a brief news conference after her speech, Clinton addressed questions about what role delegates pledged to her will have at the Democratic convention in Denver at the end of the month. She seemed to lapse back into campaign mode, referring to "my campaign" as if she were still in the running.
"We are working that out with Senator Obama, my campaign and his," she said. "We are going to have a very clear message about how the campaigns will cooperate, how the convention will be conducted, and when it’s appropriate we’ll make that announcement."
As Democrats feared during the heated primary, Republicans now have dug up the footage of Clinton’s many critical comments about Obama to use as ammunition for their attacks on him. Clinton dismissed that as an "effort to divert attention from the inadequacies of your (McCain’s) own campaign."
Her speech came just as news was emerging about another onetime competitor for the Democratic nomination, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who admitted Friday to having an affair while his wife was battling cancer.
Asked about the matter, Clinton said, "My thoughts and prayers are with the Edwards family today, and that’s all I have to say about that."
Outside Clinton’s speech, a few local Republicans staged a protest, carrying handmade signs. Diana Mleczewski and Kathy Jamison, both in their 50s, carried a sign urging people to vote for McCain.
"He knows we have to do more than inflate our tires to deal with higher gas prices," said Mleczewski, who identified herself as a homemaker.
"Obama and Clinton represent the elites," said Jamison, who also said she was a homemaker. She said Republicans like McCain are for the common man.
Though Jamison acknowledged that President Bush came from wealth, she said: "At least he gives barbecues for people."
Another Republican protester was dressed as a panda bear — make that a Pander Bear.
"Somebody stole my feet," said the black-and-white plush mascot, whose human feet were visible and wearing sandals.
Nobody stopped to listen, but that didn’t stop Pander Bear, who wouldn’t give his real name, from accusing Obama of pandering to "left-wing organizations like Greenpeace."
Review-Journal writer Paul Harasim contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Molly Ball at email@example.com or 702-387-2919.view slide show