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Page last updated at 04:44 GMT, Wednesday, 27 August 2008 05:44 UK

'Hero' Clinton plays killer scene

By Kevin Connolly
BBC News, Denver

Hillary Clinton (right) and daughter Chelsea on stage at the Democratic convention, 26 Aug
Chelsea Clinton introduced her mother on stage as her 'hero'

When they cast the movie of "2008: Democrats At War", you can visualise the sort of handsome young-ish actor they will need to play Barack Obama - cool and charismatic, but determined in a slightly distant sort of way.

But the best part in the film by miles will go to whoever plays Hillary Clinton.

How will anyone ever convey the shifting shades of light and dark we saw within her as victory slipped away in the closing weeks of the primary season?

She demonstrated an extraordinary un-killability as a candidate; ambitious and calculating certainly but durable, intelligent and informed too.

Her tragedy in the end was that as a woman she represented one kind of history for the Democrats, in the year when the party in the end chose another in Barack Obama.

Her primetime speech at the Democratic National Convention will be perhaps the hardest scene of all to play.

Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, was in tears as she acknowledged a standing ovation which stretched on for two or three minutes after their daughter Chelsea stood on stage and introduced her as "my hero and my mother".

Future prospects

This was billed as a straightforward plea for the party to unify behind Barack Obama but with Mrs Clinton nothing is ever entirely straightforward.

Hillary Clinton urges her supporters to get behind Barack Obama

That plea was there, of course, and there were nine or 10 references to Barack Obama and even one to his wife, Michelle. There was nothing in it that the Obama strategists could reasonably object to.

But there was, as always, rather a lot about Hillary herself in there too - if you heard the speech out of context you'd think it was delivered by someone who was still running for office.

If Barack Obama wins the 2008 election, this will be remembered as a gracious salute from a defeated rival; if he loses and Republican John McCain gets the White House, then we might just see it as the first speech of Campaign 2012.

If there was any doubt that Hillary is still thinking about what political circumstances might best suit her own future prospects, then I think this speech probably removed it.

Passion

This was one of the hot tickets of the Democrats week in Denver.

It was almost impossible to move on the floor of the auditorium in front of the podium and every stairway and gangway between the packed seats was crowded with party workers, lobbyists, journalists and hangers-on, all sensing that something beyond the normal electricity of a big speech was in the air.

We are on the same team, and none of us can sit on the sidelines
Hillary Clinton

She didn't disappoint. Hillary the candidate was a sometimes cautious and often rather wooden performer. In the two or three speeches I've seen since she was forced to admit she'd lost the race, she has spoken with passion and a real feel for language... admittedly she has had sympathetic audiences, but she has brought them to their feet with style and assurance.

The phrase the Obama camp was looking for was in there: "Barack Obama is my candidate and he must be our president."

But no-one knows if that will be enough to change the minds of those Hillary supporters who have been threatening to abstain in November or even vote for Mr McCain.

That, of course, is what makes Hillary such a riveting player in the theatre of American politics.

Die-hard Clintonistas

So often at the crucial moments of her life she has known what has to be said in public and she has said it, even when people have assumed that she must have been feeling something very different inside.

Clinton supporters march in Denver, 26 Aug 2008
Some die-hard supporters believe Mrs Clinton was robbed of the nomination

They sensed it when she appeared beside her husband to defuse those first allegations of philandering when he first ran for the presidency.

They knew it for sure during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, when she rounded on her husband's detractors.

And they sensed it again when she delivered a powerful argument for an Obama presidency when she must still believe in her heart that she would make a better president.

Plenty of her supporters mutter about not voting for Mr Obama, or even voting for Mr McCain, because many of them believe that Hillary was robbed of the nomination - either by sexism reporting, or the undoubted eccentricities of the Democratic system.

She appeared to have those die-hard Clintonistas in mind when she said: "We're all on the same team and no-one can afford to sit on the sidelines."

But such is the Clinton reputation for manoeuvring and calculation that her critics will shrug and argue that she can afford to make that kind of remark knowing that her supporters will sense she means something quite different.

Best part

Her praise for those die-hard supporters - the "sisterhood of the travelling pantsuits" - sounded to me like the words of an exhausted but proud commander who thinks she might one day need to call on her foot-soldiers again.

And that is what makes Hillary Clinton so endlessly fascinating.

There is nothing she could have said that would have persuaded either Republicans, or Democrats who don't like her, that she was delivering a straightforward appeal on behalf of Obama without a subtext that suited her own agenda.

It somehow sums her up that she now finds herself in a position where, however hard she works for Mr Obama and however many speeches she makes, people will automatically note that if he wins this election and holds the White House for eight years, her presidential ambitions will be finished.

If he loses, she will start the next campaign as favourite to win the Democratic nomination, just as she did this time around.

It doesn't mean she wants a Republican win of course - she is a lifelong Democratic Party worker - it just means that once again everything that's written about Hillary Clinton will be complex and ambiguous.

Very few people know what Mrs Clinton really thinks, and they never say.

As I said, when they cast the movie, whoever plays Hillary Clinton will have the best part by miles.


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