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How the Democrats survived until Unity

  • Story Highlights
  • Democrat presidential hopeful Barack Obama, rival Hillary Clinton hold first joint rally
  • The show of unity -- in a town called Unity -- closes a chapter on Democrat race
  • As Democrats put aside their divisions, so polls show a big lead over Republicans
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By Jonathan Mann
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(CNN) -- There was no way you could miss the point -- they wouldn't let you. Last week Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama held their first joint campaign rally, in a town called Unity, in a field outside the Unity Elementary School.

They went there together to pledge, yes, unity.

It closed a chapter in the biggest story of the US presidential election campaign so far, as it heads into a couple of quiet months and the coming summer heat.

In fact, there were three stories intertwined, namely the country's first real African-American contender for the presidency; its first real female contender; and the surprising disaster the combination of their campaigns could spell for the Democratic Party.

The Democrats had everything going for them: an unpopular Republican incumbent in the White House, two wars they could blame him for not finishing and economic problems that play to their reputation as care-givers to the common man.

But the excitement about making history with Obama or Clinton helped the party and hurt it too. Turnout for the Democratic Party primaries broke records in state after state, and dwarfed Republican numbers.

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Then, as the campaign proceeded, the competition between Obama and Clinton grew more pointed and sometimes prickly.

The most passionate Democrats turned against each other; some of Clinton's female voters angrily threatening to withhold their support from Obama, some of Obama's black voters threatening they wouldn't support Clinton.

Clinton eventually withdrew after one of the longest, costliest and most divisive primary campaigns the Democrats had ever seen.

Republican John McCain, by contrast, had an easy run through the primaries to become his party's nominee. His candidacy has its own problems but he is a well-known reformer who represents his party's best hope of breaking with the damaging legacy of the Bush administration.

Public opinion polls even had McCain and Obama running neck-and-neck -- good news for the Republicans and potential trouble for the Democrats.

But in Unity the Democrats put their divisions behind them and the polls suddenly showed a big bounce for Obama -- a double-digit lead over McCain.

The first phase of the campaign has come to a close. The Democrats haven't done themselves in, after all. Stay tuned.

All About Hillary ClintonDemocratic PartyBarack ObamaJohn McCainRepublican Party

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