By DAVID LIGHTMAN AND MARGARET TALEV, McClatchy Newspapers
DENVER -- Sen. Hillary Clinton on Tuesday turned the second day of the Democratic National Convention into a celebration of her historic presidential campaign as a breakthrough for women, but she left no doubt that she's solidly behind Barack Obama as her party's nominee for the presidency.
After a video tribute to her long campaign against Obama for the nomination, Clinton walked onstage, introduced by her daughter, Chelsea, who called her "my hero and my mother." Together they faced a sea of waving white signs scrawled with the word "Hillary" in blue.
Clinton told everyone unequivocally: "I'm here tonight as a proud mother, as a proud Democrat, as a proud senator from New York, a proud American and a proud supporter of Barack Obama. . . . Whether you voted for me or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose. We are on the same team, and none of us can sit on the sidelines."
"No way. No how. No McCain," she said as people roared. "Barack Obama is my candidate. And he must be our president."
She thanked her supporters, whom she called "my champions - my sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits. You never gave in. You never gave up. And together we made history."
Her speech gave the convention an emotional lift after a desultory second day of speeches by a parade of Democratic politicians.
Shannon DeRubens, a Seattle stay-at-home mother, called Clinton's speech "amazing" and said it helped move her closer to embracing Obama. "I am still looking for the Obama experience Thursday night," she said, when the Illinois senator will make his acceptance speech.
Linda Mitchell, the president of the Washington state National Women's Political Caucus, agreed. "We knew what was coming in Senator Clinton's speech," Mitchell said. "Did it bring closure? No. We need to save some tears for tomorrow," when former President Bill Clinton will speak.
As Clinton moved into the heart of her message Tuesday night, women young and old sat intently, as though they were seeing the coda to a chapter of American history. Bill Clinton watched from a club level box, his hands in a triangle over his mouth, a serious look on his face.
Hillary Clinton clasped her hands, as though in prayer, as she talked about the fight for "an America defined by deep and meaningful equality, from civil rights to labor rights, from women's rights to gay rights."
Obama watched the speech in Billings, Mont., with Eran Thompson, 32, a field organizer for the Montana campaign, and his wife, Carlee.
After Clinton spoke, Obama said: "That was excellent. That was a strong speech. She made the case for why we're going to be unified in November and why we're going to win this election. I thought she was outstanding."
After leaving the house party, Obama called and talked for several minutes with Clinton, telling her how grateful he was for her support, that she gave a terrific speech and that all those whom he'd watched with in Billings were moved by her video and the introduction from Chelsea Clinton. He also said he loved her line, "No way. No how. No McCain."
He spoke with Bill Clinton for several minutes, too, saying that Hillary Clinton couldn't have been better and had made the case for change. He said he knew how proud Bill Clinton must have been as he watched her, as he'd been Monday night watching his wife, Michelle, speak, and how grateful he was for their support.
Obama heard Hillary Clinton tie his White House bid to her husband's presidency in her address.
Obama, his former rival said, will "meet the global challenges of our time. Democrats know how to do this," she said. "As I recall, President Clinton and the Democrats did it before. And President Obama and the Democrats will do it again."
Up went vertical blue signs that said "Unity." From the Alaska delegation in one corner to South Carolina in the other, they bobbed.
"We are Americans," Clinton told them. "We're not big on quitting. But remember, before we can keep going, we've got to get going by electing Barack Obama the next president of the United States."
Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, the convention's keynote speaker, tried to hammer home that message earlier, warning that Republican rival John McCain "promises more of the same. A plan that would explode the deficit that will be passed on to our kids. No real strategy to invest in our crumbling infrastructure.
"And he would continue spending $10 billion a month" in Iraq, which Warner, who's a strong favorite to win a U.S. Senate seat from Virginia this fall, said America no longer could afford.
Warner's speech detailed the party's positions on health care, education and opportunity, and he closed with a quote from his fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson.
"I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past," Jefferson wrote to his onetime rival, John Adams of Massachusetts, toward the end of their lives.
"Jefferson got it right at the dawn of the 19th century, and it's our challenge to get it right at the dawn of the 21st," Warner said. "This race is all about the future. That's why we must elect Barack Obama as our next president."
Warner was received politely, but Clinton was clearly the evening's main event.
"I've loved her for years," said Carolyn Covington, a retired teacher from Palmer, Alaska. "But I'm going to be out there rooting for Obama."
The quest for harmony will continue Wednesday, when the featured prime-time speaker is Bill Clinton, who'd implicitly suggested earlier Tuesday that Obama may be a weak candidate.
"Suppose you're a voter, and you've got candidate X and candidate Y. Candidate X agrees with you on everything, but you don't think that candidate can deliver on anything at all," Clinton asked. "Candidate Y you agree with on about half the issues, but he can deliver.
"Which candidate are you going to vote for?"
The former president quickly added, "This has nothing to do with what's going on now."
Hillary Clinton connected with Michelle Obama backstage earlier Tuesday at an event sponsored by EMILY's List, a group that recruits and funds female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights.
"Senator Clinton congratulated her on her speech and Michelle wished her good luck tonight," Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Delegates were confused about how a roll call of the states will proceed Wednesday. The Clinton and Obama camps were discussing a deal in which some states would cast votes on the convention floor in prime time, then Clinton or a supporter would move to make the Obama nomination unanimous.
Some delegates indicated that they'd be upset if they couldn't vote for her.
"Basically, the primary was a tie," said Margaret Haynes, a real estate broker from Wilmington, N.C.
"We know how we're going to leave here, but it's still important that women have made this progress. . . . If we're disenfranchised from casting a vote for Hillary Clinton, it will be very difficult to feel a part of a unified process."
Political pros were more optimistic, and put particular emphasis on getting women behind Obama.
"How can we be mad? They're us," said Eleanor Smeal, the president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and a Clinton supporter. And they have a common goal, Smeal added: a better, fairer economy.
(Talev reported from Billings, Mont.. Jim Morrill of The Charlotte Observer contributed to this report from Denver.)
Ron Edmonds / AP Photo
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., addresses the delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2008.