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Will Clinton's Speech Help Obama Win Votes?

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. We haven't heard from Barack Obama or even Joe Biden, but to some political reporters, the key moment of the Democratic convention may already have happened. NPR's Juan Williams was watching it last night in Denver. He's on the line to talk about Hillary Clinton's speech last night in support of Obama. Juan, good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So I'm looking here online at the trusty tabloid, the London Sun. And they've chosen possibly the least flattering photograph imaginable of Hillary Clinton, but even here you have incredible energy. You have a real sense of an energized former candidate. Was she on target in trying to show her support for Obama?

WILLIAMS: Oh, I think she did. You know, I think she did it right from the start, too, Steve. She started off by saying, you know, she's a proud Democrat, she's a proud American and she's a proud Obama supporter. So she didn't have anybody waiting. She didn't go through the story of her campaign before she made it explicit that she's there to support Barack Obama.

It was a 23-minute speech, and I just thought she really nailed it in terms of going after McCain as well, said that McCain, the senator - who's the presumptive nominee - is her friend. But then she added no way, no how, no McCain and said, you know, the Republicans are having their convention in the Twin Cities - no surprise because McCain and President Bush, with his low approval ratings, should be twins. And so I think it was, for her, a real effort, and I think studied effort, to make it clear to her supporters who were - I'm telling you, they were pumped up last night, Steve, the hall was really buzzing - to make it clear to them that, you know, she's for Barack Obama.

INSKEEP: Although you've got thousands of pundits watching you in a moment like this, whoever you are, and they're looking for any tiny sign that you're not sincere about this. Did anybody pick out any tiny sign of that?

WILLIAMS: Oh, you know, we have a draft of the speech. And I might say, by the way, that the Obama people didn't get a draft of this speech, and they were a little upset about that.

At the last minute, all kinds of changes were being made by the Clinton team. But, you know, there were some points where she didn't express, as it was in the text, that support for Obama, but then other times, when she came back and inserted her own words about the need to support Obama.

So, no, I don't think that anything jumps out where people - some people were talking about the body language, but it looked to me like she was thoroughly in it and really - she didn't slow down so much on the support Obama as she did slow down and emphasize with emotion, grow even somewhat misty-eyed about talking about her own campaign.

INSKEEP: Of course, the bigger question is whether Hillary Clinton voters, supporters out in the countryside, are going to be energized for Obama or stay home or vote for McCain, as some are telling pollsters they will.

WILLIAMS: Well, that's right. I mean, it's an astounding number. Different polls have different results, but basically, what you're seeing is about 20 percent or so of people who voted for Clinton are not committed to voting for Senator Obama and especially among women. And I think women feel a special connection to Hillary Clinton, and in some cases feel that they, you know, the Obama team, dismissed her too cavalierly and didn't respect the fact that she got 18 million votes.

I might add that, you know, just around the hall, when I'm talking to Clinton supporters, they point out that her team has raised millions, $4 million, for the Obama team, while the Obama team - which promised to help her retire some of her debt - has done a really small job, about $400,000. And again, there's lots of these grievances all around, but it looks good to me in terms of what she has done right now because she has her own political future to protect.

INSKEEP: Juan Williams, very briefly, is Bill Clinton's speech now tonight almost as important as Hillary's was last night?

WILLIAMS: It's going to be watched more closely, Steve. You made the point about people looking. I think the sense is from people close to the former president that he really doesn't like Barack Obama and feels that Barack Obama has not acknowledged his time in the White House, his service to the country, even that he may have called him a racist in some ways. So that's going to be watched closely.

INSKEEP: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: Always a pleasure to talk with you. NPR news analyst Juan Williams, speaking with us from Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Juan Williams
Juan Williams, one of America's leading journalists, is a news analyst, appearing regularly on NPR's Morning Edition. Knowledgeable and charismatic, Williams brings insight and depth — hallmarks of NPR programs — to a wide spectrum of issues and ideas.