Robert Novak

Terry McAuliffe, long the Clintons' faithful political servitor and Hillary's presidential campaign chairman, played the cheerleader after the meeting. "This is unity!" he declared to reporters assembled in the Mayflower's long lobby. Vernon Jordan, another longtime Clintonite, was similarly upbeat.

But the tone of what really happened inside the locked ballroom was quite different once Obama and Hillary Clinton had their cordial say and the floor was open for questions. The first "questioner," an angry woman from New York, demanded a roll call of presidential preference at the Denver convention. Next came another distraught woman, declaring that Clinton's candidacy was the victim of "misogyny." One participant told me, "This is as tough a crowd as Obama is going to face the whole campaign."

It was so tough that Lanny Davis, the one participant to whom I talked who permitted his name to be used, tried to change the mood. Davis, who had been a Clinton White House aide and remains a fervent supporter of both Clintons, rose to say the presidential contest had been painful in dividing Democratic families -- alienating him from his Obama-supporting son, Seth Davis, the prominent college basketball reporter. Now, he said, they are together again.

But Davis admitted to me there is "a lot that needs to be done" for all wounds to be healed. "It's going to take a long time," Lawyer Gus said of achieving unity. The minds of the Clintonites are with Obama, but not their hearts. That helps explain why the presidential race appears close in what otherwise shapes up as a horrible year for Republicans, and that is why the nominee's "underwhelming" performance at the Mayflower is important.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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