WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton may not end up as Barack Obama's running mate, but her role at his nominating party will be crucial, with her army of voters apparently not yet fully sold on the new Democratic champion.
As speculation rages about Obama's vice presidential pick, expected to be named within days in the run-up to next week's Democratic National Convention in Colorado, reports say Clinton's name is not even on the short-list.
But a spurt in the polls by Republican John McCain has narrowed the White House race into a statistical tie, making it more important than ever for Obama to solidify the core Democratic vote in November's election.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll published on Wednesday found that only 52 percent of people who voted for Clinton in the marathon Democratic primary duel had so far decided to vote for Obama in November.
Twenty-one percent said they would vote for McCain, while 27 percent had not yet decided. One in three of the group said they found Obama "arrogant and cocky."
Signs of simmering discontent among Clinton's loyal army of voters, came with the general election race narrowing significantly in key battleground states like Ohio and Pennsyvlania, which both McCain and Obama need to win in November.
The former first lady, firing off an outspoken populist economic message, trounced Obama in primary votes in both states, and pointedly raised doubts about his appeal to conservative white, working class Democrats.
Clinton, who has been out of the public eye for several weeks, was Thursday venturing out onto the campaign trail on Obama's behalf in another key battleground state, Florida, where McCain is leading most polls.
The former first lady will also step squarely back into the spotlight with an address at the Democratic convention on Tuesday, seen as vindication for her near 18 million-strong band of primary voters.
Former president Bill Clinton, who has had a testy relationship with the Obama campaign, is meanwhile due to give his own speech on Wednesday.
In a bid to soothe simmering anger among Clinton's fiercely partisan supporters, the Obama campaign also agreed this month to put Clinton's name to a symbolic roll-call vote at the convention.
Howard Wolfson, who served as Clinton's campaign communications director, told Fox News in his new capacity as a political commentator Thursday that was a "good decision" and would satisfy the New York senator's supporters.
But he said Obama still faced a challenge to win over all of Clinton's backers -- a task he said which could be eased by chosing her as vice presidential nominee.
The Politico newspaper reported this week that Clinton aides had formed a 40-member "whip team" to make sure that her supporters do not mount anti-Obama demonstrations during the floor vote on the nomination.
Many Democrats once saw an Obama-Clinton tie-up as a "dream" presidential ticket, which would unite the party and swamp McCain, but speculation that he would chose the former first lady has been dampened in recent weeks.
Political analysts say that picking the New York senator would undercut his message to change the partisan culture in Washington, in which she has been embroiled for years.
Obama may also be unwilling to add the drama and political baggage that always surrounds the Clintons to his notoriously leak-proof and tight knit political machine.
There may also have been concerns about to handle former president Clinton.
Copyright 2008 AFP