Democrats began their presidential nominating convention yesterday with a struggle to fully unite behind Hillary Clinton, following a dramatic day of intraparty squabbling and protests.

But by the end of the evening - after back-to-back-to-back speeches by first lady Michelle Obama, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders - the party began to focus more on defeating Republican nominee Donald Trump than on fighting among themselves.

Sanders, whose "political revolution" had electrified millions of Democrats throughout his hard-fought primary campaign with Clinton, was greeted by several minutes of sustained applause as he took the stage to cap the night.

"Election days come and go," he said, before referencing his revolution on behalf of the poor and marginalised. "That struggle continues."


Sanders didn't mention Clinton's name for several minutes, but when he did, he endorsed her candidacy and brought the crowd to its feet.

It was a stark contrast from the early part of the programme. Before Sanders took the stage at Wells Fargo Centre, mentions of Clinton's name had been met with a smattering of boos in a speaking programme that began under a cloud of controversy after a leak of internal emails showed party strategists appearing to plot against Sanders during the primary campaign. Sanders supporters chanted his name repeatedly through the night, shouting over mentions of Clinton.

Sanders's speech capped an evening with a lineup heavy on liberal voices, including that of Warren, a hero to the left who had been a favourite to challenge Clinton.

Warren lambasted Trump for "fanning the flames of fear and hatred" during an address in which she compared his electoral strategy of "divide and conquer" to tactics that kept the South racially segregated during the Jim Crow era.

The first lady also drew a strong reaction from the crowd. Her voice grew thin as she said that, because of Clinton, her teenage daughters do not question that a woman can be president. "Hillary Clinton has never quit on anything in her life," Obama said to cheers. "We don't turn against each other - no, we listen to each other."

Trump was watching the turmoil and the convention speeches, and needled Clinton, Warren and Sanders via Twitter. "Bernie Sanders totally sold out to Crooked Hillary Clinton. All of that work, energy and money, and nothing to show for it! Waste of time," he wrote.

Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton but said 'election days come and go'. Photo / AP
Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton but said 'election days come and go'. Photo / AP

Democrats were hoping to showcase a smooth, error-free convention that would contrast sharply with last week's Republican gathering in Cleveland, which was marred by plagiarism and intraparty skirmishes.

The opening day focused on Clinton's background in helping children and families, and featured a parade of elected officials, union leaders and others praising her commitment to immigration reform, gay rights, addiction treatment and other issues.

"She's been paying it forward her whole life," Senator Cory Booker told the crowd.

One of the evening's more awkward moments came when comedian Sarah Silverman, a prominent Sanders supporter during the primaries, took the stage with Senator Al Franken, a fellow Saturday Night Live alumnus who backed Clinton early.

"This past year, I've been feeling the Bern," Silverman said.

The Berniecrats cheered.

"Relax, I put some cream on it," she added, before explaining why she will vote for Clinton "with gusto." At that, Sanders supporters began to boo loudly. Then Silverman went off the teleprompter. "Can I just say to the Bernie or Bust people," she said, "you're being ridiculous!" The Clintonites in the crowd loved the unscripted rawness of the moment, and their roar overtook the Sanders backers.

Later in the week, the party stalwarts will hear from President Barack Obama, Vice-President Biden and former President Bill Clinton, among others. The convention will culminate on Friday in a speech from Hillary Clinton, who is poised to make history as the first woman to be nominated for president by a major party.

Outgoing Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz stayed offstage following heavy criticism over the leak of a trove of embarrassing DNC emails.

Wasserman Schultz excused herself from the exercise earlier in the day, bowing to heavy opposition from party activists to try to ease hard feelings.

The emails cost Wasserman Schultz her post. Under heavy pressure from the Clinton campaign, she agreed on Monday to step aside when the four-day convention closes on Friday.

Hillary Clinton speaks at the 117th National Convention of Veterans of Foreign Wars at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte. Photo / AP
Hillary Clinton speaks at the 117th National Convention of Veterans of Foreign Wars at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte. Photo / AP

The email messages released by hackers were posted Saturday on the website WikiLeaks. They undercut claims by the party and the Clinton campaign that the process was open and fair for Sanders.

The emails revealed a DNC official apparently discussing how to use Sanders's religion against him to help Clinton before the Kentucky and West Virginia primaries. In another email, a Clinton campaign lawyer told the DNC how it could respond to claims from the Sanders campaign that it was improperly using a joint fundraising committee with state parties.

The Washington Post reported last month that Russian government hackers penetrated the DNC, stealing opposition research about Trump and compromising the party's email and chat systems.

The Clinton campaign - and several cybersecurity experts - said the leak was a political ploy carried out by the Russian government to help Trump's campaign.

Republicans, led by Trump, seized on the episode.

"So Debbie was totally loyal to Hillary. And Hillary threw her under a bus. And it didn't take her more than five minutes to make that decision," Trump said during a campaign event in Roanoke.

A pair of new polls released yesterday showed a competitive race heading into the convention. A CNN/ORC survey conducted after the GOP gathering showed Trump jumping ahead of Clinton. A CBS News poll showed that the contest is effectively tied.

Winners and losers


Michelle Obama

: It will be difficult for anyone in the next three days to deliver a better speech than the first lady did. She used her personal story of raising two young African-American girls in the White House to tie her husband's history-making presidency to the history-making bid of Hillary Clinton. Remember this, too: Michelle Obama is not a politician. She has not run for any office - yet.

Bernie Sanders: The Vermont Democratic Socialist who, before this presidential campaign, existed on the outskirts of American politics, received a hero's welcome when he emerged as the final speaker. The applause lasted for three minutes. People in the crowd cried. Then Sanders delivered much of his now-familiar stump speech - revolutionary change, millionaires and billionaires, economic justice - with a sprinkling of "Hillary Clinton" on top. Sanders' speech was, essentially, a confirmation that he was right about almost everything and Clinton now understood that fact.

Sarah Silverman: Kudos to Silverman for acknowledging the fight between Clinton and Sanders forces. Her line - "To the Bernie-or-bust people: You're being ridiculous" - will be one of the memorable lines of the convention. And it was spontaneous.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz: A total disaster of a day for the soon-to-be-former chair of the Democratic National Committee. Booed and heckled at a Florida delegation breakfast, then she was pushed out of any formal role at the convention.

Elizabeth Warren: Her speech just didn't cut it.

Cory Booker: Went on way too long.