Hillary Clinton delegates from Tennessee broke into open rebellion Wednesday in one of the only bursts of public anger to surface in a convention devoted to embracing Democratic Party unity after a contentious primary campaign.
The dissention led one Memphis delegate, Rudi Scheidt, to say he was "aghast" and the outright "hatred" he saw on display between the Clinton and Barack Obama camps.
The issue that sparked the anger was whether Clinton’s pledged delegates have a moral obligation to represent the voters who elected them to vote for Clinton on the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention — even though Clinton vowed in her speech Tuesday night to support Barack Obama.
Betsy Reid, acting as the official Clinton whip for the Tennessee Democratic Party, outraged fellow Clinton-pledged delegates when she said she intended to vote for Obama in Wednesday night’s largely symbolic roll-call vote of the full convention.
Ann Strong of Alamo, Tenn., demanded that Reid step down as the Clinton whip if she will not stand for Clinton, and accused Reid of unethical behavior.
"I’ll be a Democrat at the end of the day but, if you were sent here by your constituents and you are a person with integrity, you stick with how you were sent," Strong said.
Of her call to oust Reid, which was supported by at least two other delegates —
Harold and Sylvia Woods of Knoxville — Strong said: "She wanted to be a Hillary delegate. Excuse me. Where is your ethics? Am I wrong?"
Harold and Sylvia Woods, delegates from Knoxville, took Strong’s side.
"She just lost her clout," said Sylvia Woods, chairwoman of the Knox County Democratic Party. "She should have kept her mouth shut, or she should step down."
Woods’ husband, Harold, also a pledged Clinton delegate, said he came to the convention promising to vote for the New York senator, "and that’s what I’m going to do."
Sylvia Woods said that, while she expects most Democrats to eventually line up behind Obama, a lot of Clinton supporters are still upset — not because their candidate lost, but because "it seemed she was being pushed out of the race."
"And when they pushed her, they were pushing us because we worked for her," Sylvia Woods said.
Scheidt, at his first convention, rose to try to steady frayed nerves.
"Vote your conscience," the Memphian told the crowd. "Vote for whoever you want to vote for but remember: this never took place. Because if they hear that we’re divisive … you do nothing but demean the Democratic Party and put (John) McCain in office."
Several speakers in Hillary caucus said they’re happy to get behind Obama once the symbolic vote is taken. Some, like Strong, spoke in tears.
The debate was just the latest sign that the party remains divided despite concerted efforts to display a united front.
But even as rancor remained, some Tennessee delegates are apparently willing to move forward. DeSoto County Clinton delegate Kelly Jacobs said she planned to bring a cand of fudge to an afternoon meeting with Clinton. Attached will be a note saying "Breaking up is hard to do."
(E-mail Scripps Howard Correspondents Bartholomew Sullivan at sullivanb(at)shns.com and Michael Collins at collinsm(at)shns.com.)
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