by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
August 28, 2008
HOW KATRINA AND ITS AFTERMATH SWEPT AWAY THE G.O.P.
AT THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION, DENVER, Colo., Aug. 27, 2008 -- On the southernmost fringes of Democratic convention territory here, in a nondescript hotel dining room in suburban Douglas County, Colo., 17 miles from the downtown Pepsi Center where the convention's business is being conducted, 47 Arkansas delegates seemed to have a little trouble saying goodbye to their favorite sister, Sen. Hillary Clinton.
State party officials admonished rank-and-file state delegates that "it's time to move on" and get behind presumptive nominee Sen. Barack Obama.
The American Reporter was the only media outlet in attendance, and even though the program notes sai the delegate meeting was to be open to the press, an AR Correspondent was asked to leave the room for a few minutes near the end of the meeting, presumably when an unofficial vote tally was announced.
The 7 AM breakfast in the Lone Tree Room at the Marriott Denver South Hotel was immediately followed by a mandatory meeting at which delegates were directed to cast their vote on a paper roster before the official roll call at the Democratic National Convention. That was a break from normal procedure, one apparently designed to show the rest of the country a unified front and ensure that the next president will be a Democrat.
"Everything is a little different this year," said Carla Bradley, first vice-president of the Arkansas Democratic Party. "Because it was so close, this whole convention is different."
Sen. Clinton won Arkansas by an overwhelming margin - the largest margin in her favor in all her primary races. But this morning's reluctant message was one of unity, following Clinton's exhortation to her supporters to get behind Obama. Her persuasion worked here.
"She had this dream, and it's been hard for her," said Arkansas U.S. Senator Mark Pryor, now an Obama supporter in a soft, thoughtful voice. "We hated to see it die. We know she would have made a great president."
A vigorous round of applause rose from the delegates. Some were still clearly in favor of pressing on against insurmountable odds, even if most were ready to vote for the party's nominee.
"It's time for America to wake up," said State Rep. Stephanie Flowers, of Congressional Dist. 17 in Jefferson County, Ark. "I am an Obama delegate and have been since last year," Flowers said.
"I think he represents the changes we need in this country. This election is critical for our country and if we can't seize this opportunity this country is going to be something we don't want to see," Flowers said.
"I've known her since I was 12 years old," Pryor told the quiet delegates. "She gave such a wonderful talk last night - very moving. It made me proud to be an American and proud to be a Democrat. We hated to see that [Clinton] did not get nominated."
Clinton's name will be put in nomination, of course, during the roll call today, but there seems little likelihood she could win, or that a delegate revolt can even be mounted. That appeared to be one of the reasons delegates were asked to declare their votes on a paper roster before they went to the convention floor.
Noting that Clinton "basically said this is not about me," Pryor noted some of Obama's achievements and compared the two candidates, soothing the former First Lady's supporters by claiming Barack believes the same things.
"You look at their vision of America, their hope for the future, they are very similiar," he said.
Some Clinton supporters lobbied all week to have their votes publically polled during the official convention roll call this afternoon, even taking to the streets to demonstrate and build public support. They were not encouraged or embraced by the Clinton team.
Officials later said the delegates' choices would be revealed at the 4 PM MT roll call of the states, even if delegates were asked to make their choice before they reached the convention floor. The delegates were promised a phone call from Clinton before the vote, and it came around 2:15 PM today. In the call, Clinton formally released her delegates and urged them to vote for Barack Obama.
"All the votes will be counted," announced Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as the voting began on the convention floor. The roll call would end as soon as the convention selected a nominee, she added. Alabama began the voting by casting 47 votes for Barack Obama, and five for Sen. Clinton. Then came Alaska, followed by American Samoa, and then Arizona. Finally, it was Arkansas's moment.
Rebecca Watney, the widow of recently murdered state party chair Bill Watney, rose and said in a loud, clear voice, "I am proud tonight to heed Sen. Hillary Clinton's call for party unity,`and to unite behind Sen. Barack Obama. Arkansas proudly casts all 47 votes for the next president of them United States, Sen. Barack Obama."
On CNN, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-Ga.), told Wolf Blitzer the unanimous vote of the Arkansas delegation for Obama represented to him a huge advance in the cultural and political development of the United States. "It brought tears to my eyes," the House majority whip said, his voice breaking as he spoke.
"When people say "nothing will change," said senior civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), "I can tell them, 'Take a walk in my shoes.'" Lewis had marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, and led the famous civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. As the march's leader, he had only knelt in prayer to break the law.
The vote came, CNN's John King noted, on the 100th birthday of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a white Southerner who grew up in the era of segregation. Uon becoming President after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Johynson passed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act,which gave all Americans the right to vote freely. That vote was critical in the selection of Obama in dozens of primary states. Since that time, King said, seven of the last 10 presidential elections have swung to the Dewmocrats.
For America, and for a generation of leaders at a time when black Americans were forced to live their lives as second-class citizens, it was a signal, halycon day. Somewhere in America, you knew, perhaps in a small rural community in the Deep South, church bells were joyfully ringing out the news on a flawless Wednesday afternoon.
And after Barack Obama had accumulated 1,549 votes, it was Hillary Clinton who moved to suspend the roll call and nominate the Illinois Senator by acclamation.
As a glad song began to blast through the Pepsi Center, Speaker Pelosi announced that Sen. Obama had called her to accept the nomination. His acceptance speech will come Thursday night at the former Mile High Stadium, now dubbed Invesco Field.
AR Correspondent Ted Manna has covered the 2008 campaign exclusively for The American Reporter since Aug. 25, 2007. Joe Shea is the papere's Editor-in-Chief, and is based in Bradenton, Fla. Both are in Denver.