How Healed is Hillary?

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Win McNamee / Getty

Every convention has its rogue narrative: Would Lyndon Johnson reach out to Bobby Kennedy in 1964? Would Reagan offer Ford a co-presidency in 1980? Could George Herbert Walker Bush tame Pat Buchanan's rebel band in 1992? The more freeze-dried the official proceedings, the hungrier reporters get for raw meat, real conflict, which has Democratic veterans like former party chairman Don Fowler looking a little drawn. He was a die-hard South Carolina Hillary Clinton champion — "but you win, you lose, you move on." A loyal cadre of Clinton bitter-enders, Fowler says, "introduces so much uncertainty into an event like this, when it's all supposed to be apple pie and American flags."

Going into Tuesday, Hillary Healing Day, the only question on the table is whether the patient — and the considerable following that ministers to her — wants to get well. You have to wonder whether maybe, perversely, the process will be helped along by everything that John McCain is doing to slow it down. For days the GOP has been merrily sprinkling salt in Democrats' wounds, launching ads featuring Hillary supporters defecting to Team McCain and hosting a "Happy Hour for Hillary" to woo her supporters to the Republican side. On Monday the party held a press conference featuring Ohio Democratic activist Cynthia Ruccia denouncing Barack Obama for having a "complete blind spot where women are concerned."

But the instigation isn't coming exclusively from McCain. A group calling itself 18 Million Voices paraded and rallied outside Denver's convention center to reaffirm their commitment to Clinton — and to vent their considerable frustrations. Between drags of a Seneca menthol cigarette, Andy Colón, a lifelong Democrat who was raised in New York, works in construction in Colorado Springs and volunteered much of this past spring for Clinton, said he's lost faith. "Am I disgusted and fed up with the Democratic Party? You better believe it," Colón said.

Inside the convention hall on Monday afternoon, there was less anger but plenty of swirling emotion. Clinton supporter and Florida delegate Cathy Bartolotti, a former Tampa city worker, had bought an Obama T shirt and button but wasn't able to wear the items yet. "By Thursday, maybe I'll put it on," she said. "We have to come together, but I want to hold out a little more. Just tomorrow. Give her her due."

Obama spokesman Dan Pfeiffer insisted that relations between the key players on the two staffs have been good, even if some residents of the outer planets haven't gotten with the program. By historic measures, Team Clinton came out of the peace negotiations with a respectable win: it got two of the four convention nights (Hillary will speak on Tuesday, Bill on Wednesday) and language in the party platform denouncing the press for its sexist coverage. Campaign officials are still working out the choreography of a roll call vote and how exactly Clinton will release her delegates to vote for Obama.

In response to McCain's ads, Clinton listed all the reasons the Democrats needed to get their act together. "The Supreme Court is at stake; our educational system needs the right kind of change. We've got to become energy independent; we have to create millions of new green-collar jobs. We've got so much work to do around the world," Clinton said. "None of that will happen if John McCain is in the White House."

At the Rise Hillary Rise rally, those words weren't promoting much healing — but Democrats can take some consolation in the fact that Republicans weren't gaining any ground either. Eight McCain supporters tried to crash the rally, offering McCain T shirts, signs and water. "They were like, 'We're on your side. We're for Hillary,' " said Elizabeth Fietcher. "And they were like, 'We've got water,' but it was warm water. We were just like, 'Get out of here.' We're Democrats over here, and we don't want the Republicans."

Asked if he would vote for McCain, Colón, the Hillary-supporting construction worker, took a drag on his cigarette. "Republicans?" he asked. "I think me and my dogs will die first."