Page last updated at 19:54 GMT, Friday, 27 June 2008 20:54 UK

Democrat rivals seek unity in Unity

By Kevin Connolly
BBC News, Unity, New Hampshire

The town of Unity, New Hampshire, could hardly have done more to make itself the ideal backdrop for this great symbolic act of reconciliation.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at a joint rally in Unity, New Hampshire, 27 June 2008
Mr Obama needs the votes of Mrs Clinton's former supporters

America's Democrats came together to bury their differences in a gently shelving meadow cut from the rolling woodland of rural New England.

There is the symbolic resonance of the name, for a start - I imagine there will be a pay rise and promotion for the lucky strategist who stumbled upon this picture-book village in what must have been a pretty detailed gazetteer of North America.

But there is also the way the town's voters reflected the division and debate which gripped the Democrats through the long - and sometimes bitter - primary season with which Campaign 2008 wrote itself into the history books.

In the agonisingly tight New Hampshire Democratic Primary, 214 people voted in Unity, we are told - 107 each for Obama and Clinton.

But there is no denying it made an improbable backdrop for this key symbolic moment in this historic election year.

The crowd that gathered in the open field on the edge of Unity outnumbered the town's population, and the long line of supporters snaking down Main Street past the white-painted weatherboard town hall took hours to funnel through the village and onto the makeshift bleachers erected around the temporary stage.

Matching colours

And yet, somehow, it seemed appropriate - after all, the two leading Democrat contenders trailed their divisions and differences through hundreds of communities like this, so there was no reason why the process of binding the wounds should not start here.

And the onstage show of Unity-in-Unity was impressive too.

It rather looked as if the candidates and their dressers had co-ordinated outfits - Mr Obama was not wearing a jacket but his loosely-knotted tie appeared to be the same shade of cobalt blue as the trouser suit that Mrs Clinton favoured.

And of course, the two senators, slick and seasoned performers, were bang on message.

Mrs Clinton praised Mr Obama and spoke of him as a friend - she directly urged those of her supporters who are considering not voting at all, or even voting for Mr McCain, to reconsider.

Mrs Clinton has been far more gracious and constructive in defeat than her critics would have thought possible, however deep her private disappointment

She is still Hillary, of course: tough, brilliant - and disappointed.

So I detected a slight edge when she noted that New Hampshire would always have a special place in her heart (remember her extraordinary comeback victory in the state's primary?) and expressed the hope that it would soon have a special place in Mr Obama's (subtext: I hope you win the state in the general election, but do not forget this is one of the places where I beat you).

Mr Obama is a better public speaker than Mrs Clinton, with a real feel for cadence and climax but he got one of the biggest cheers of the day for the simplest line of the lot.

He had a few elaborate words of praise for Mrs Clinton of course, but at one point he said simply: "She rocks."

You got a sense from his speech of the weight that will be lifted from his shoulders if the Democratic Party really can put on a united front too.

I have rarely seen him more relaxed - at one point he was even thanking the local warm-up band (The Popcorn 7, since you ask) and telling the crowd where they could find burgers and hot dogs behind the huge "Change We Can Believe In" sign which dominated the setting.

Colossal debts

There is a tough political subtext to all of this of course.

Mr Obama needs Mrs Clinton's supporters, and Mrs Clinton needs Mr Obama's support.

In other words, he needs the votes of the older women and blue-collar men who tended to support her in the Democratic primaries and she needs help to start paying off her colossal campaign debts, thought to be well over $20 million.

It is fair to say that both processes are now under way.

Mrs Clinton has been far more gracious and constructive in defeat than her critics would have thought possible, however deep her private disappointment.

And Mr Obama has not only urged some of his own wealthy backers to help Mrs Clinton - he set the ball rolling by writing her a cheque himself.

Plenty of people I met in the crowd where very much on board with the Unity message - the new orthodoxy is simply that the party was lucky to have had TWO outstanding candidates, especially when history was beckoning either the first black, or woman president.

But there were plenty of Hillary supporters in the crowd too whose mood was, for want of a better word, un-unified.

It remains to be seen how many of them will carry out their threat to vote Republican or simply not vote at all.

Still, I am starting to think Barack Obama is a lucky politician, and luck goes a long way in politics.

It is not just the fact that he had his old adversary on stage beside him either.

The day dawned sunny in Unity but as time wore on it slowly clouded over - the Democrats had built an open stage in the middle of a field and rain would have been a televisual disaster.

But for Mr Obama, the rain held off - just.

The first drops fell as he delivered the last words of another soaring peroration.

However exciting and history-making a candidacy might be, a little bit of luck never hurt anybody.

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