June 6, 2008
Backers of Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton showed up en masse Friday for the start of the Texas Democratic Party’s state convention and an attempt to unify after the bruising presidential primary season.
Caucus groups from around the state met all day — some cordial and quiet, others a little rowdy with opposing opinions flying — before the formal party meeting and speeches got under way in the evening with the goal of solidarity.
“We have come together because our differences with each other don’t begin to compare to the ones we have with our political opponents about our values, our priorities and our future,” state Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, one of the convention leaders, told the cheering crowd.
Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton addressed the convention later on behalf of her mother. She got a rousing ovation and spoke for about five minutes, thanking Clinton’s supporters.
“My mother wants it to be very clear that we are going to unite our party and take back the White House,” she said. “And my mom will be making a speech tomorrow supporting Senator Obama.”
Sen. Clinton is expected to formally endorse Obama on Saturday in Washington, D.C. Obama finished ahead of Clinton in delegates as the primary season ended earlier this week, clinching the 2,118 delegates he needed to secure the presidential nomination.
Chelsea Clinton, who campaigned with her mother in Texas this spring, urged the Democratic activists to continue registering voters and talking up campaign issues.
“We know that our work has just begun,” she said.
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine planned to speak for Obama three months after the presidential candidates squared off in a rough Texas primary.
Because of the excitement over the Obama-Clinton race, Texas Democratic Party leaders expected a record convention crowd of about 15,000.
“I’m a first-time delegate and so excited,” said 75-year-old Sophia Shepard of Dallas, who sported five Obama buttons. She said she has loved politics her whole life and credited Obama with getting a new generation involved. “He’s a young man, and he’s impressed a lot of young people.”
Delegate Jesusita Tiblier, 74, of San Diego in South Texas wore Clinton garb, held a Clinton sign and spoke a bit sadly of the primary season ending.
“I have 13 little granddaughters,” she said. “And I would like some day for those little girls to look up and say, ‘I want to be president of the United States.’ “
Tiblier said she believed Clinton inspired hope among young women. A teacher for 25 years, Tiblier said her boy students often spoke about wanting to be president, but not the girls.
Mingling among the throngs of delegates were elected officials and candidates, from the local to the federal level, who tried to ignite excitement about the November general election.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rick Noriega and his aides made their way from one caucus meeting to another at the Austin Convention Center. He acknowledged being the underdog against Republican Sen. John Cornyn in the fall but said he’s glad primary season is over and voters can turn their attention to November.
Noriega predicted the Texas Democratic Party will be helped by the record 2.8 million voters who took part in the party primary March 4. He predicted they’ll remain involved and that Obama’s field organization will also help.
“Texans want change, and we’re gathered here tonight to offer Texas new leadership,” Noriega told the Democratic convention Friday night. He took several swipes at Cornyn, repeating some of his familiar campaign themes.
Noriega, a lieutenant colonel in the Texas Army National Guard who has served 14 months in Afghanistan, was on a brief leave from his Guard duty to attend the convention and a fundraiser before returning to active duty Saturday. He is the top state Democratic candidate on the ballot.
But the presidential race dominated the convention’s first day.
Hill County Democratic Party chairman Will Lowrance said he is officially uncommitted to a candidate and that he is trying to unite his county’s activists for November. He said interest from supporters of both presidential candidates has been good for the Texas party, which has been struggling for a decade to regain power in state government.
“The state party is rediscovering what it means to listen to people,” Lowrance said.
His wife, Betty Lowrance, summed up the hope of many after the divided primary season: “Let there be peace.”