DENVER As New York's 361 delegates to the Democratic National Convention gathered here to hear Senator Clinton address their breakfast meeting yesterday, a palpable sense of what might have been lingered in the hall.
The "Hillary for President" placards so ubiquitous on the campaign trail had been replaced by the more polite "Hillary Made History" signs, and the crowd needed a little warming up. A morning that would have served as the kickoff to a four-day victory party had instead taken on the feel of a past-tense tribute to New York's leading lady.
"Are you ready to elect a president?" the state party chairwoman, June O'Neill, asked. Hearing only scattered applause, she tried again. "C'mon, this is New York! Are you ready to elect a president?" The audience responded with louder cheers.
A few minutes later, Senator Schumer put a voice to the mood. "Despite all of us, or many of us, who worked so hard for Hillary, despite our feelings of, 'Maybe it could have been,' we know we have a task ahead," he said.
"We all do have most of us, almost all of us in this hall mixed emotions," he added. "We know it and we know when you've worked and struggled so long and so hard to achieve a goal, the feelings every one of us and particularly Hillary has inside, about that wonderful struggle that broke so many glass ceilings, but didn't quite break them all."
Mr. Schumer testified to Mrs. Clinton's support of the presumptive Democratic nominee, Senator Obama, while also paying tribute to her tenacity.
"Despite the setbacks, and despite the barriers, and despite the sexism, and despite everything else, nothing stops her," he said.
As expected, the emotional climax of the event arrived when Mrs. Clinton was introduced. The applause was lengthy, loud, and rapturous, and the former first lady, after hugging Mr. Schumer, Governor Paterson, and the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, waited several moments before beginning to pay her own extended tribute to her home state supporters.
Mrs. Clinton was making her first appearances in Denver; she is scheduled to address the convention in a much-anticipated primetime speech tonight.
In remarks that lasted just short of 10 minutes, she acknowledged the bittersweet mood and several times reiterated her call for unity. "We were not all on the same side as Democrats, but we are now," she said, attributing the lengthy period of post-primary reconciliation to a spirited and "diverse" party. "We're not the fall-in-line party," she said to laughs.
Mrs. Clinton also responded forcefully to efforts by the Republicans to exploit Democratic divisions, citing specifically an ad put out by the McCain campaign that features her criticism of Mr. Obama during the primary. "Now I understand that the McCain campaign is running ads trying to divide us, and let me state what I think about their tactics and these ads: I am Hillary Clinton and I do not approve that message," she said to a rousing ovation.
Despite the former first lady's repeated pleas for her supporters to offer their full-throated backing for Mr. Obama, the moment of "catharsis" that some of her loyalists seek and some Obama supporters dread appeared likely to occur anyway.
At a news conference after her delegation appearance, Mrs. Clinton confirmed that she would officially release all of her delegates at a meeting tomorrow, but she gave no indication that she would specifically urge them to vote for Mr. Obama in a symbolic roll-call vote.
"I will be telling my delegates that I will be voting for Barack Obama, and I understand that many of them will be doing that," Mrs. Clinton told reporters. "Others feel an obligation to the people who sent them here that they were elected to represent. But there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we will leave here united, and that is the goal."
She added: "I am doing everything I can to make that happen."
Earlier in the summer, Mrs. Clinton made headlines by telling supporters at a private event that perhaps they needed a moment of "catharsis" at the convention before fully embracing the party's presumptive nominee. Mr. Obama later said he didn't think a catharsis was needed, but he agreed to allow Mrs. Clinton's name to be placed in nomination for the symbolic roll call.
In her comments yesterday, Mrs. Clinton acknowledged that some of her delegates would vote for her, saying that while they are committed to the Illinois senator's candidacy this fall, the roll-call ballot at the convention presented "a more personal decision."
The Associated Press reported yesterday that the Clinton and Obama camps were finalizing an arrangement in which a few states would vote in a roll call, allowing some delegates to cast a ballot for Mrs. Clinton, before the convention moved to support Mr. Obama by acclamation.
Mrs. Clinton yesterday also sought to tamp down reports of lingering tension between her allies and the Obama campaign. Citing the hard-fought and protracted nature of the primary, she said it takes longer for some supporters than for others to get on board and that the recognition of her historic candidacy via the roll-call vote was "traditional" for conventions following contested primaries. "It would have been the same way if I had won and Barack had been here supporting the unity of the party," Mrs. Clinton said. She added later that advisers to her and Mr. Obama have "a good working relationship."