The July 31 cocktail reception outside Palo Alto, Calif., had been billed as an evening for letting bygones be bygones, a coming together of Hillary Clinton's Silicon Valley backers with Barack Obama's to help the New York Senator retire her campaign debt. But as Clinton took questions from the 150 or so people who had paid $500 and up a head to listen, it became clear that the healing process was far from over. "For so many of my supporters, just like so many of Barack's supporters, this was a first-time investment of heart and soul and money and effort and sleepless nights and miles of travel," Clinton said. "You just don't turn it off like that."
Those comments now playing in clips on YouTubespeak to not only the bruised feelings of Clinton's many supporters. Embedded in those remarks, say friends and advisers, are hints of Clinton's own feelings in the aftermath of a race in which she fought so hard and still fell short. In public, Clinton is doing everything she is asked and then some to help the man who defeated her get elected to the White House. She raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Obama from her extensive network of donors and has spoken to many of the groups, including key unions, that backed her in the primaries. She is set to hit the campaign trail on his behalf, starting with rallies and voter-registration drives this month in Nevada and Florida. "I'm doing all I know to do," she insists.
But behind the united front, says an adviser, "it's not a great relationship, and it's probably not going to become one." In private conversations, associates say, Clinton remains skeptical that Obama can win in the fall. That's a sentiment some other Democrats believe is not just a prediction but a wish, because it would prove her right about his weaknesses as a general-election candidate and possibly pave the way for her to run again in 2012. Clinton is also annoyed that Obama has yet to deliver on his end of an informal bargain, reached as part of their truce, that each would raise $500,000 for the other. "Hillary has done her part in that regard," says an adviser. "Obama has not."
Underlying it all is a feeling on Clinton's part that Obama has never shown proper regard for a campaign she believes was as historic an achievement as his. True, Obama has asked Clinton to give a prime-time speech on the second night of the convention later this month. But as the odds that she will be Obama's running mate have faded, there are signs that Clinton's backers could demand one last show of respect before Obama claims the nomination in Denver. Clinton has been giving tacit encouragement to suggestions that her name be placed in nomination at the convention, a symbolic move that would be a reminder of the bruising primary battle. "No decisions have been made," Clinton said when asked in California to whoops and applause about that possibility. Still, it was hard to miss what Clinton would like to see in the pointed way she added, "Delegates can decide to do this on their own. They don't need permission." Some of her allies are not so enthusiastic about that kind of gesture. Says Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz: "We really need to focus at the convention on unifying the party behind Senator Obama."
Meanwhile, if Hillary Clinton's feelings are still bruised, her husband's are positively raw. The former President is particularly resentful of suggestionswhich he believes were fueled by the Obama campthat he attempted to play upon racial fears during the primaries. Not helping is the fact that Obama has yet to follow up on the tentative dinner plans he and Bill Clinton made at the end of the primary season. "It's personal with him, in terms of his own legacy," says a friend of Bill Clinton's. "And the race stuff really left a bad taste in his mouth."
Bill Clinton's resentment came through in an interview with ABC News during his recent trip to Africa. Asked what regrets he might have about his role in his wife's campaign, he bristled and then shot back, "I am not a racist. I never made a racist comment." He struggled to render a positive comment about Obama's qualifications for his old job. "You could argue that nobody is ever ready to be President," Clinton said. "You could argue that even if you've been Vice President for eight years, that no one can ever be fully ready for the pressures of the office." Pressed again, he responded with an endorsement that could hardly have been a weaker cup of tea: "I never said he wasn't qualified. The Constitution sets qualification for the President. And then the people decide who they think would be the better President. I think we have two choices. I think he should win, and I think he will win."
Mindful of the lingering bitterness, the Obama camp has tried to reach out to the sizable professional political class that has surrounded the Clintons for a generation. In late July, for instance, the campaign hosted what was by all accounts a well-received session at former Senator Tom Daschle's downtown Washington office for about 50 of the Clintons' most prominent backers. But it was telling that only a handful of their leading female supporters showed up. Will a genuine reconciliation ever occur? Said a longtime Democrat with a foot in both camps: "Yes, but only at the convention." Democrats worried about unifying the party before November are hoping that's not too late. With reporting by Mark Halperin / New York City