DENVER – The perceived indignity of standing in a crush of bodies behind the Island of Guam in that gaping blue glow of the Pepsi Center, coupled with the ongoing grind of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D-NY) loss, didn’t do much to boost the spirits of the delegation, as coming in here they hung their last hopes on a podium appearance by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-Union City).
"No comment," state Party chairman Joseph Cryan said when poked about Menendez’s chances of speaking.
When it finally didn’t happen, the bulk of Garden State Democrats looked again for sustenance in Senator Clinton, who won by nearly ten points in New Jersey, whose presence on stage could keep the painful tensions of every silently suffering delegate alive for a few more hours – building to some end that was as yet unknown.
And yet when she spoke on Tuesday, Clinton put a larger political conflict in very stark terms, attempting to uplift to battle stations a mood that could easily go straight to a meltdown with the wrong tone.
Yes, there was a sentimental underbelly to her performance, as a blurry-eyed Bill Clinton appeared to mouth the words, "I love you" to his wife as she walked through the paces. But finally there was toughness in losing and FDR ideological purity, as Clinton assumed a fighting pose Democrats hope Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) will sharpen when he takes the stage tonight.
"John McCain says the economy is fundamentally sound," Senator Clinton said of the presumptive Republican residential nominee. "John McCain doesn’t think 47 million people without health insurance is a crisis. John McCain wants to privatize Social Security. And in 2008, he still thinks it’s okay when women don’t earn equal pay for equal work. With an agenda like that, it makes sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin cities. Because they’re awfully hard to tell apart."
That was exactly the meat and potatoes rhetoric Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) wanted from Clinton. At the Palms a couple of hours before the speech, Turner told PoltiickerNJ.com that her party has to continuously make that Bush-McCain connection in the minds of voters.
"That Bush third term message has to be made very strongly," Turner said.
Standing on a stage with the former president and his wife, a charged-up Gov. Jon Corzine later shouted his approval to the troops at the post-convention party up on the third floor of Invesco Field, reiterating pride in his choice of Clinton during the Democratic Primary.
The crowd embraced Clinton as she and her husband descended the stage and milled.
"The speech exceeded expectations," said a jubilant Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin. "Hillary spoke eloquently of the struggles and triumphs of the American experience – the greatest country in the history of the world."
For many in the delegation, the emotional charge they expected to receive from this convention but lacked had finally come in a sudden onslaught. Whatever offering of energy a speaker like former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner planned to make at the convention last night was vaporized, as far as this group was concerned.
"He bombed," one delegate bluntly told PoltiickerNJ.com – and he was supposed to be a star. On a bad night in the shadow of Senator Clinton, perhaps Warner could take some measure of comfort in Bill Clinton’s 1988 dud keynote.
In the end, it was Hillary’s night, amplified a day later when she released her delegates to Obama and the latter officially became the party’s nominee with her blessing.
But this was only Tuesday-Wednesday, not Thursday, and if Bill Clinton would share Wednesday night with Biden, there was still the fact out there front and center that the Clinton era appears over, despite the hurt, despite it all.
"It’s a very bittersweet moment, this speech tonight, because you look at her and listen to her, and you know she could be president," said West New York Mayor Sal Vega as the buses moved all around him under I-25 in the night where he walked toward Invesco Field.
State Chairman Cryan could take some measure of satisfaction from this morning’s breakfast at the Inverness as the words of Union leaders pulled delegates out of their chairs to applaud the party’s nominee.
Some scattered chants from no doubt early supporters, "Obama, Obama," sought a larger chorus among the delegation.
But the room unmistakably let the chants die, as Hillary pride hung stubbornly over the event, a dominant sense in the room among delegates that they’ll clap politely for the nominee, even stand, but secretly credit Hillary; and hold to the thought that this convention is more about the formations of her comeback than the 2008 presidential struggle. Into this back story, with the charming, competitive presence of Bill Clinton chained to the evening, comes Biden, looking to get the "Obama" chants started, and sustain them for the title act tomorrow and through Nov. 4th.