Resentment lingers among Hillary's supporters


US:WHEN HILLARY Clinton takes the stage at Denver's Pepsi Center tonight, she will make an appeal for party unity, urging the 18 million Democrats who supported her in the primaries to get behind Barack Obama as their party's nominee. DENIS STAUNTONreports.

Beneath the surface, however, relations between the Clinton and Obama camps remain raw, with the former first lady's inner circle complaining that she has been shown insufficient respect since the end of the primary campaign.

The news that Mrs Clinton was not even considered as a vice-presidential running mate has fuelled resentment among her supporters. A poll published yesterday suggested the number of former Clinton supporters who plan to vote for John McCain has almost doubled since Joe Biden was chosen for the number two slot.

Maggie Williams, senior adviser to Mrs Clinton, and David Axelrod, chief strategist to Obama, yesterday issued a joint statement aimed at dampening speculation about tension between the two camps.

"The fact is that our teams are working closely to ensure a successful convention and will continue to do so. Senator and president Clinton fully support the Obama/Biden ticket and look forward to addressing the convention and the nation on the urgency of victory this fall. Anyone saying anything else doesn't know what they're talking about," they said.

Less than a mile away from the convention centre, however, a small group of diehard Clinton supporters were meeting yesterday morning at a downtown Denver restaurant. Andy Colon, a native New Yorker now living in Colorado Springs, said the group, 18 Million Voices, was not giving up on Mrs Clinton until after the nomination roll call on Thursday.

"We're going to express ourselves today and tomorrow," he said. "We're going to show our appreciation for Hillary."

Mrs Clinton's name will go forward for nomination but she is expected to tell delegates pledged to her that they are free to back Mr Obama and she is likely to cast her own superdelegate's vote for him.

Under one deal apparently under discussion, a couple of states would cast their votes - some for Mr Obama and others for Mrs Clinton - until, when New York votes, Mrs Clinton will call for unanimous backing for her former rival.

Mr Colon claimed Mrs Clinton has come under intolerable pressure to follow party discipline. Like many diehard Clinton supporters, he plans to write her name into the ballot in November rather than vote for Mr Obama.

Unlike some of his friends, he will not be supporting Mr McCain but he is relaxed about the prospect of the Republican becoming president.

"I'd rather stay with the lesser of two evils," he says. "At least if McCain wins we're on a safer road."

Predicting that Mr Obama will lose November's election, Mr Colon is confident that Mrs Clinton will be back in 2012, even if she has to run on a third-party ticket.