CHARLESTON, W.Va. – John Kerry asked Hillary Rodham Clinton (search) on Thursday to address the Democratic National Convention on its opening night and introduce her husband, former President Clinton, ending an intense lobbying campaign by the New York senator's backers angered by her non-speaking role.
The Kerry campaign unveiled its first set of speakers for the convention early this week, including former Presidents Clinton and Carter, Al Gore (search) and others, but the absence of the former first lady drew criticism from Democrats, particularly women. She was to appear on stage with other female senators.
Clinton said she was not disappointed, but a lobbying effort quickly got under way on her behalf.
Kerry, who campaigned in Pennsylvania and West Virginia on Thursday, called Clinton and asked her to introduce her husband in a speech before the convention. Aides did not know how long the address would be.
"Senator Clinton is honored and delighted to have the opportunity to address the convention, and she will continue to do everything she can to elect John Kerry and John Edwards," Philippe Reines, a spokesman for Clinton, said in a statement.
"We are thrilled that Senator Clinton has accepted John Kerry's invitation," Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said. "Senator Clinton has been a leader in the Democratic Party, and she will play a vital role in laying out" the choice between Kerry and Bush to voters.
On Wednesday, the former chairwoman of the New York State Democratic Party had called the slight of Clinton a "total outrage" and "very stupid." Kerry's campaign responded to Judith Hope's criticism by saying it had no plans for giving the senator a speaking role, because she didn't request one.
That changed Thursday when Kerry placed his call. "I am delighted," Hope said Thursday. "I think it is a very fitting and very appropriate solution to a perplexing dilemma."
With their intense supporters and detractors, the Clintons present a dilemma to the Kerry campaign. They can help energize Democratic voters and spread Kerry's message, living reminders of better economic times in the 1990s. But they are both polarizing figures, the former president with his Oval Office affair and his wife with her failed health care overhaul.
By scheduling them back-to-back on July 26, Kerry's team hopes to harvest the Clintons' goodwill then quickly turn attention to the Democratic ticket.
The announcement puts to rest the latest political snag for Kerry's campaign in the run-up to the late-July convention.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (search), D-Md., complained to Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill that the strategy of releasing only a few names each day minimizes the importance of some speakers, said her campaign manager, Mike Morrill.
"The senator was very clear that the way they did this botched it," Morrill said. "By doing it as the One-A-Day vitamin strategy, they missed the picture that they have a whole shop of vitamins." Other speakers complained privately to the campaign about the way their roles were handled.
Also this week, the Kerry campaign unveiled a $2 million TV ad campaign geared toward black voters, only to hear complaints from members of the Congressional Black Caucus who wanted more testimonials in the spots.