Challenge to offer more than status quo

By Philip Rucker, Dan Balz

Democratic nominee-in-waiting Hillary Clinton with her new running-mate Senator Tim Kaine in Miami. Photo / AP
Democratic nominee-in-waiting Hillary Clinton with her new running-mate Senator Tim Kaine in Miami. Photo / AP

After Republican Donald Trump presented a dark picture of the US at his convention in Cleveland last week, Hillary Clinton and the Democrats plan to project a more optimistic and inclusive vision of the future when they convene in Philadelphia tomorrow.

But the challenge for Clinton and her newly minted running-mate, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, will be to avoid becoming cheerleaders for the status quo and instead infuse that hopeful tone into an argument for change that could galvanise a frustrated and divided electorate.

Democrats will highlight the core theme of Clinton's campaign: "Stronger together". The programme will alternate among political heavyweights led by President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, celebrities such as Katy Perry and Lena Dunham, and everyday Americans whose aim will be to make Clinton appear more appealing and approachable.

Clinton's advisers are confident that the Philadelphia festivities will present a far more united Democratic Party than Republicans were able to display at their convention, which was marred by outbursts of dissent and division.

Central to that mission is tomorrow's speech by Senator Bernie Sanders, who is charged with trying to rally his supporters behind Clinton's banner after a bruising primary battle, although there is resistance among some loyalists.

The harsh tone of Trump's convention - symbolised by the anti-Clinton chants of "Lock her up!" - gives the Democratic nominee-in-waiting and her allies an opportunity to expand her appeal to disaffected voters who are hungry for change but perhaps reluctant to embrace Trump and the brand of politics he annunciated in Cleveland. At the same time, the Democrats similarly risk overreach in their denunciations of Trump. Another danger is that if protests outside the arena turn violent, it could mar the party's effort to provide a united and relatively peaceful contrast to the Republican event.

"The Republicans painted a black canvas with maybe a little stripe of red, which would be Donald Trump's tie," Democratic pollster Peter Hart said. "Unexpectedly, the Democrats end up with a white canvas and a chance to paint it in any direction that they wish."

All year, Clinton has struggled to find a message that both energises the Democratic faithful and reaches to a different part of the general electorate disenchanted with politics as usual.

"If she is so concerned about the progressive revolt that days one, two, three and four are saying, 'I'm Bernie Sanders Lite with pantsuits,' then this whole group turned off by Trump has nowhere to go," said Henry Olsen, of the Ethics and Public Policy Centre.

But Housing Secretary Julian Castro noted the importance of energising the coalition that helped Obama win two elections. "We need an infusion of motivation and energy to remind folks that we can't take this election for granted ... These are close elections ... People need to understand how important their individual vote is."

Some in the party suggest that, like much about Trump over the past year, what looks to be a problem for him does not always become one. William Galston, domestic policy adviser in Bill Clinton's White House and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said: "The idea that Donald Trump's convention speech allows Democrats to put any product they want on the shelf and expect the consumers to buy it is an optimistic proposition that I can't embrace, and I hope the Clinton campaign won't either."

Hart said: "The ability to condense the Clinton message into something which is both hopeful and realistic would make a huge difference."

Key speakers

Tuesday: First lady Michelle Obama, Senator Bernie Sanders

Wednesday: Former President Bill Clinton and the mothers of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown

Thursday: Vice-presidential nominee Senator Tim Kaine, President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden

Friday: Hillary Clinton, introduced by daughter Chelsea

Other speakers include:

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Senator Sherrod Brown, Senator Cory Booker, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Senator Al Franken, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley.

Tim Kaine and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during a rally in Miami. Photo / Washington Post photo by Melina Mara
Tim Kaine and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during a rally in Miami. Photo / Washington Post photo by Melina Mara

Divisions on display

The Democratic Party is still divided over the results of its presidential primary season, with anger at the nominating process, the Clinton-Kaine ticket and hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee spilling into the party's final meetings before the convention.

The rules committee, which typically approves the party's nominating process with little debate, became an outlet for that frustration.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders found new reasons to bristle about their choice in November. Hillary Clinton's selection of Senator Timothy Kaine as her running-mate angered progressives who had lobbied for someone from their movement. In interviews, a dozen Sanders delegates said they were not enthusiastic about Kaine; some admitted that they had never heard of him before.

The partial failure of a push to end the use of superdelegates - the party activists and officials who are unbound by the primary results - dredged up feelings that the Clinton-Sanders face-off had not been fair. Clinton supporters called for unity and dismissed the idea that the party's rules were disenfranchising anyone.

The leaked DNC emails, which showed party leaders writing off Sanders's chances and speculating about how his atheism could hurt him politically, embarrassed Democrats who wanted to put the primaries behind them.

Steady, Kaine and able

The newly formed Democratic ticket took the stage for the first time in Miami, showing off a partnership that prizes steadiness over flashiness.

As Hillary Clinton presented her running-mate, Senator Tim Kaine, to a roaring crowd of supporters, she noted that her choice stood in clear contrast to Republican nominee Donald Trump and pick for vice-president, Indiana Governor Mike Pence.

"Senator Tim Kaine is everything Donald Trump and Mike Pence are not," Clinton said. "He is qualified to step into this job and lead on day one. And he is a progressive who likes to get things done!"

Kaine presented himself as pubic servant whom people from a wide range of upbringings and ethnicities could find something to identify with. And in essence he did one thing Clinton has struggled to do in this campaign: convey authenticity. Kaine was passed over for the vice-presidential job in 2008, but in the intervening years, he beefed up his resume, winning a Senate seat in a key swing state, serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to accrue foreign policy experience and establishing himself as a well-liked pragmatist.

"Do you want a trash-talking president or a bridge builder?" Kaine asked. "Donald Trump trash-talks people with disabilities, trash-talks Mexican Americans, trash-talks women, trash-talks our allies."

- Washington Post

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