WASHINGTON - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will take a lower profile than many expected at the Democratic National Convention this month, backing up Maryland's Barbara A. Mikulski in a segment showcasing the party's nine women senators.
Some party regulars reacted with indignation that the former first lady and the party's most prominent woman would play a minor role at the convention in Boston, July 26-29.
"It's a slap in the face, not personally for Hillary Clinton, but for every woman in the Democratic Party and every woman in America," said Judith Hope, former chairwoman of the New York State Democratic Party and a major party fund-raiser.
But Mikulski, the dean of the women senators, said Clinton chose to play a supportive rather than leading role.
"Mrs. Clinton made a choice not to be a solo act but to be with the [eight] other women," Mikulski said. "It is not an oversight. That was her choice because she wanted to be there not as the former first lady but as senator, the senator from New York."
Attempts to obtain comment from Senator Clinton's office were unsuccessful. Former President Bill Clinton is to speak to the convention Monday night in prime time.
Senator Clinton, who addressed a prime-time television audience at the 1996 national convention in Chicago where her husband was nominated for a second term, will speak along with other women senators, led by Mikulski, during an opening night presentation at 7 p.m.
The women's segment is to focus on mobilizing American women for Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive presidential nominee, and on behalf of Democratic candidates for House and Senate seats. It is set to take place just before a prime-time speaking lineup that includes, in addition to former President Clinton, former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Al Gore.
Barack Obama, a Chicago law professor and Illinois state legislator who is running for the U.S. Senate, will deliver the convention's keynote address the next night, it was announced yesterday. The selection of Obama, who could become the fifth black senator in U.S. history, underscores the importance Kerry places on drawing African-American voters.
"Barack is an optimistic voice for America and a leader who knows that together we can build an America that is stronger at home and respected in the world," Kerry said in a statement.
If Kerry falters this year, Clinton and the Massachusetts senator's running mate, Sen. John Edwards, would be seen as top candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.
Mikulski said the hubbub over Clinton's role might have been avoided if convention planners had released the names of all the speakers at once.
"They wanted to roll it out like M&Ms;, like one a day. One-a-day is good for vitamins, but ... the vitamin strategy doesn't work."
Sun staff writer Julie Hirschfeld Davis and the Associated Press contributed to this article.