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At Rally, Finding Clinton’s Aid to Obama Too Tepid

Published: August 21, 2008
BOCA RATON, Fla. — Minutes after pushing through the rope line to thank Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for “all that you do,” Robin Shaffer said she was worried. She feared that the senator she respected and admired for being tough and experienced had not done all that she could to unify Florida’s fractured Democratic Party while campaigning here on Thursday for her former opponent.
Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel, via Associated Press
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in Orlando on Thursday in her first Florida campaigning for Senator Barack Obama.

“It was good that she said my supporters need to now support Barack Obama,” said Ms. Shaffer, 46, reflecting on Mrs. Clinton’s speech before about 700 people. But, she added, “I wanted her to repeat that one more time.”

Many who had supported Mrs. Clinton’s run for president shared Ms. Shaffer’s opinion. Democrats who said they had recently accepted that Mr. Obama, of Illinois, would be the Democratic presidential nominee greeted Mrs. Clinton’s 30-minute speech — her first rally in Florida on his behalf — with warmth but also demands for more.

Democrats here have been especially divided since Mrs. Clinton battled to have the state’s delegates awarded to her after Florida held its primary early, in violation of Democratic Party rules, and after the party said it would not seat its delegation at the convention.

The delegates’ voting rights, with half a vote each, were eventually restored, leaving Mrs. Clinton’s victory here intact. And while national polls show that her supporters have been moving toward Mr. Obama, many Clinton voters are still demanding a strong signal from her on whether to shift their allegiance.

In her speech, Mrs. Clinton, of New York, offered an unequivocal endorsement. She repeatedly linked her signature issues of health care, the economy and abortion to Mr. Obama. Emphasizing how a President Obama could further her agenda in the Senate, she said, “I need a president who will work with me, who will be there for the people I care about, that I get up and fight for every single day.”

In all, Mrs. Clinton mentioned Mr. Obama’s name about 10 times. But at some points she sounded wistful. She pointed out, for example, that it was her third time at Florida Atlantic University as a proxy for a presidential candidate. “I’ve been here three times,” she said. “In 1992, for my husband. In 1996, for my husband” — the audience laughed — “and in 2008, for Barack Obama, the next president of the United States.”

Guy Montes, 63, a retired shift manager for United Airlines and a Clinton supporter in the primary, said later that Mrs. Clinton’s heart did not seem to be in it.

“It was a platonic type of endorsement,” Mr. Montes said. “It wasn’t real love. She’s just doing what she’s supposed to be doing.”

Even Cecilia Payne, 52, an insurance agent in West Palm Beach originally from Barbados, who declared that “the Clintons are the best thing that ever happened to politics,” said Mrs. Clinton must work harder.

“She should have been a little more forceful and more convincing,” Ms. Payne said.

Many here said they feared that Mrs. Clinton did not fully appreciate the divide that remained among Democratic voters. Ms. Shaffer, a part-time medical technician, said many older voters she knew were still struggling with racial prejudice, an issue Mrs. Clinton did not substantially address.

Ileen J. Cantor, 46, a Democratic precinct coordinator in Boca Raton, said that among many lifelong Jewish Democrats, “it’s still iffy, which is freaking me out.”

Jennifer Boxen, 35, a librarian at Florida Atlantic, applauded vigorously when Mrs. Clinton said she and Mr. Obama had been “on two paths” but were now on “one journey.” But she said she was still not sure whom she would vote for.

“Ask me again next Tuesday,” Ms. Boxen said, “after I know who the vice-presidential pick is.”

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