DENVER — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, hoping to unite the Democratic Party and cement her future in it, will gather her hard-won primary delegates Wednesday at a reception where she is expected to formally release them to Barack Obama.
The New York senator has invited her pledged delegates to a reception at the Colorado Convention Center, not far from the main Democratic National Convention arena.
The high-profile gathering of political regulars who once fought against Obama serves a dual purpose for Clinton: Show fellow Democrats that she can be a team player, and display her still-formidable political strengths for the future. Many of her supporters want her to run for president again.
A Democratic official told The Associated Press Sunday, a day before the convention begins, that she is expected to release her delegates at the Wednesday event. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss details publicly.
Asked about Clinton's plans for the event, her spokesman Philippe Reines said it will be "an opportunity for Senator Clinton to see her delegates _ many for the first time since the primaries ended, thank them for their hard work and support, and most importantly to encourage them to support and work for Senator Obama as strongly as she has in order to elect him in November."
At an appearance in Fresno, California, for the United Farm Workers, Clinton declined to comment on her plans for the Wednesday event. She praised Obama's newly-minted running mate Joe Biden, another sign of party loyalty.
"I know him very well, and I know he has been on the front lines of the fight for social and economic justice his entire time in public service," Clinton said.
She has support among key voting groups that Obama has yet to win over, particularly women, older voters, and working-class voters.
Coming into the convention, many Democrats have wondered exactly how and when Clinton would throw her delegates to Obama, and if that would be a messy, contentious affair.
Some Clinton delegates still plan to vote for her at the convention, even if she releases them.
"This is much bigger than Hillary," said Pam Durham, a Clinton delegate from Fort Worth, Texas. "I have a responsibility. I do not own my vote. I have to represent the voters who sent me."
Pat Bakalian, a Clinton delegate from Santa Cruz, Calif., agreed. She said she came to Denver to vote for Clinton, "and it's what I'm going to do."
Both Durham and Bakalian said Obama has not yet won their support. They are waiting to see how Clinton is treated at the convention, and to make sure the nominating process is run fairly.
Daniel Kagan, a Clinton delegate from Colorado, said, "I was sent to Denver to vote for Clinton. I would be letting my voters down if I voted for anyone else."
Kagan said he plans to vote for Obama in November, but he won't be volunteering for the campaign.
"I'll get behind it (the ticket) weakly," Kagan said.
Republicans are already trying to take advantage of such potential fissures.
John McCain's campaign launched a television ad suggesting rival Barack Obama snubbed Clinton because of her criticism during the Democratic primary fight.
The ad features clips of Clinton, including one in which she accused him of negative campaigning, and a voiceover announcer says: "She won millions of votes but isn't on the ticket. Why? For speaking the truth."
Clinton aides responded that she clearly supports Obama and agrees with him on important issues like health care and the Iraq war, and doesn't agree with McCain on those issues.
Associated Press Writer Stephen Ohlemacher in Denver and Tracie Cone in Fresno, Calif. contributed to this report.