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Democrats say they are united behind Obama

ROCHESTER, Minn. - Democrats left their state convention rallying behind Barack Obama, but the party remained divided about whether Hillary Clinton should fill out the presidential ticket.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party activists gathered at Rochester's Mayo Civic Center for a three-day convention that ended Sunday said they are heading into the general election season confident of Obama's historic candidacy.

There is less agreement on whether Clinton, who Saturday ended her own run for president, could help or hurt Obama's chances against Republican Sen. John McCain.

Even delegates to the state DFL Party convention who supported Clinton said they have no trouble backing Obama, who claimed himself the party's nominee in a St. Paul speech Tuesday night.

"I think it is time to move in a different direction," said state Sen. Dan Skogen of Hewitt, who was a delegate to the DFL convention and had supported Clinton. "I think Obama can better himself by choosing someone else."

Colleen Michaelson, a delegate and St. Louis County social worker, said she wanted a Clinton presidency.

"I'm totally cool with Obama," she said Sunday.

Activists said Clinton's Saturday speech, which some Minnesota Democrats watched on monitors outside their convention, was important for the party to move forward.

"Hopefully it'll go a long ways toward healing," Michaelson said.

Democrats are in the process of uniting behind Obama, but they are not fully there.

"I think we're getting there," said delegate Nancy Larson of Dassel, who this weekend was elected a national committee woman from Minnesota. "We're Democrats; we are never all together on anything."

Like other Democrats, Nobles County DFL Chairman Doug Bauman said they eventually will be united behind Obama. "When you put your heart and soul in it, it is hard to give in up in one day."

Larson disputed Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's contention that many Clinton supporters will vote for McCain.

"Some people threatened," Larson said, but most Clinton Democrats she pushed on the issue admitted they would pick Obama over McCain.

Obama could face some difficulty among some rural Minnesotans, Larson said.

"There are a certain number of people who have fears because he is different on many levels," she said.

Besides being an African American, which Larson said may take time for some people to accept, Obama approaches politics unlike most male politicians. Clinton addresses issues like most males, Larson said, while Obama tends to deal with matters more like many women, by listening to more people.

"People aren't used to that as much," Larson said.

Delegate Bill Hedin of Mazeppa said he doubts rural Minnesotans will chose McCain over Obama.

"I don't perceive Minnesotans as being stereotypical" voters, he said.

Clinton may be more effective remaining in the Senate or serving in Obama's Cabinet than as being vice president because of her skills and strong personality, said delegate Karen Bain of Park Rapids.

"I'm not against it," Bain said of an Obama-Clinton ticket, "but I just think Clinton has a place she would be good, but maybe not as vice president."

Bain said it was important for her Democratic Party that Clinton now is supporting Obama.

"I think it's good that it's decided, so everyone can get behind one candidate," she said.

To be sure, Democratic leaders tried to persuade delegates to leave the three-day convention united. Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, who was a top Clinton supporter in Minnesota, told activists their presidential differences are history and they need to get behind Obama.

"He has my full support and I hope that he will have all of yours," Dayton said. "The stakes are far too high for us to be divided and lose."

"If we're all united together, we will win in November," Dayton added.

State DFL Party Chairman Brian Melendez said delegates are united - and the Obama and Clinton campaign organizers are ready to join forces.

Melendez said both campaigns have coordinated with the state party for months, so it will not be difficult to organize a statewide campaign.

Democrats said Obama has a good chance to beat McCain in November. They cited the massive political caucus turnout his campaign generated earlier this year.

"Those people are almost certain to vote," Melendez said.

Some delegates believe Obama's message of change does not mean Clinton should be passed over as Obama looks for a running mate.

"You can't just be about change," said Hedin, the Mazeppa delegate. "You have to be about everything and you have to make people comfortable."

One Obama supporter and DFL convention delegate had a different take on the Illinois senator who would be the country's first black president.

"He's African American and he understands tribalism," said Erma Vizenor, chairwoman of the White Earth Band of Chippewa.

"Much of the world is tribal," she said, so Obama is the best candidate to deal with both Native Americans and other countries.

Few American Indians will back McCain, Vizenor said.

Nobles County, in southwestern Minnesota, should fall in line behind Obama, Bauman said, in part because of the large Hispanic population there.

Bauman's co-chairwoman, Cheryl Avenel-Navara, was a Clinton backer and said she would have no problem supporting Obama, who was a close second in her mind.

Like much of rural Minnesota, Bauman's area is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. However, the caucus turnout in February was so much larger for Democrats, that bodes well for the November election, he said.

Even in rural Wabasha County, Obama attracted supporters to the February caucuses, said Terri Wintering of Wabasha. Wintering said Obama can win Minnesota because with Clinton out of the race he will attract women voters, laborers and independents.

Besides, Wintering and fellow Wabasha County delegate Hedin said, Minnesota still is a progressive state.

Wintering said if Minnesota is considered a purple state it is because in 2006 some areas of the state that had voted Republican went Democratic. "If we're purple, it's because those areas have changed."