Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Dems In Denver: Clinton Rocks The House

After a rather subdued opening night highlighted by Michelle Obama's poignant address, the pressure was building on the Democrats in Denver to rally the party in opposition to Republican John McCain. On Tuesday night, the Democrats--most notably Hillary Clinton--delivered. (Click on any of the links below to see video of the speeches.)

A number of rising stars from the gubernatorial ranks filled the prime time hours--Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, Brian Schweitzer of Montana, and Ted Strickland of Ohio among them. Though their speeches were largely overlooked by the broadcast networks and even the cable news outlets, these Democratic executives peppered the convention hall with anti-McCain zingers. The cumulative result was more or less effective, though only Schweitzer's revving turn on the podium was truly memorable.
  • "I'm sure you remember a girl from Kansas who said there's no place like home," Sebelius told the crowd. "Well, in John McCain's version, there's no place like home. And a home. And home. And home." The line on McCain's houses gaffe was Sebelius' most noteworthy in a speech that was generally unimpressive and lacking firepower.
  • "Arizonans are also proud of their political tradition," Governor Janet Napolitano, who endorsed Obama before her state's February primary, continued. "From Barry Goldwater to Mo Udall to Bruce Babbitt. Now, there's a pattern here. Barry Goldwater ran for president and he lost. Mo Udall ran for president and he lost. Bruce Babbitt ran for president and he lost. Now speaking for myself and for at least this next election, this is one Arizona tradition I'd like to see continue."
  • Ohio's Ted Strickland, who had been a leading Clinton supporter, finally got the crowd going. Strickland painted McCain as out of touch economy, saying, "John McCain has no problem hitting the snooze button on the economy because he's never been a part of the middle class. And I would say to him, Sen. McCain it's time for your wake-up call because we just can't afford more of the same."
  • Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey was able to summon the hall into chants of "four more months" rather than four more years a Bush policies with John McCain, a connection that will be critical for Democratic success this fall. Casey, whose father was famously denied a speaking spot at the party's 1992 convention because of his pro-life views, went on to reinforce the Bush-McCain link, adding, "John McCain calls himself a maverick, but he votes with George Bush more than 90% of the time. That's not a maverick, that's a sidekick."
  • David Paterson, installed as New York's governor following the Eliot Spitzer ordeal, had another strong moment in saying, "The question in this race is which of the candidates will make the change that will restore the promise of America. Is it John McCain? No? I'm shocked. Maybe that's because John McCain continues to claim that President Bush's policies have been great for the economy. In 2007, John McCain voted with the administration 95% of the time. So if he is the answer, the question must be ridiculous."
  • Montana's Brian Schweitzer, sporting the first bolo tie we've seen thus far in Denver, took the stage just before Hillary Clinton was to speak and after starting slowly, he was able to whip the hall into a frenzy that even attracted some coverage from the broadcast networks. "We simply can't drill our way to energy independence," he told the crowd, "even if you drilled in all of John McCain's backyards--including the ones he can't even remember." Schweitzer was folksy and funny, cheery but tough, and ultimately effective in a turn that should really boost his profile across the country.
Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner delivered the convention's keynote address and, along with Clinton, was to be one of Tuesday's headliners. Warner largely fizzled, however, in a speech that played out more like an advertisement for his Senate campaign. He was too often rambling and other than an attempt to frame the 2008 contest as a race between past and future, he failed to draw any contrasts with John McCain. Instead he hit bipartisan notes, but those are likely the same points that Obama himself will touch on at Invesco Field later this week. "The race for the future is on," Warner began. "It won't be won with yesterday's ideas and yesterday's divisions. And it won't be won with a president who is stuck in the past. We need a president who understands the world today, the future we seek, and the change we need. We need Barack Obama as the next President of the United States." That contrast needed to be more prominent, but it wasn't. Democrats shouldn't expect Rudy Giuliani, the Republican keynoter in Minneapolis, to be so kind to their nominee.

Though Warner was the keynote speaker, the night truly belonged to Hillary Clinton and the obstacles before her were plenty. With the Republicans and the media eager to push the Obama-Clinton divide, her speech was certainly the most anticipated moment of the convention. Right away, she tried to put to rest any lingering questions about her support for Barack Obama, saying, "I am honored to be here tonight. A proud mother. A proud Democrat. A proud American. And a proud supporter of Barack Obama." She quickly called for her supporters to join with Obama, adding, "Whether you voted for me, or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose. We are on the same team, and none of us can sit on the sidelines."

Reflecting on the goals of her own campaign, she tied them to greater Democratic cause, asking her supporters, "Were you in this campaign just for me? Or were you in it for that young Marine and others like him? Were you in it for that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids? Were you in it for that boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage? Were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible?" Clinton also moved to separate herself from John McCain, who had featured her in a spat of recent ads. "You haven't worked so hard over the last 18 months, or endured the last eight years, to suffer through more failed leadership," Clinton emphasized. "No way, no how, no McCain. Barack Obama is my candidate. And he must be our President."

Clinton was humorous ("sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits") and magnanimous. She acknowledge her 18 million supporters and tied her message to that of Barack Obama. She went after John McCain and did so aggressively, referring to him as President Bush's twin. "It makes sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities, because these days they're awfully hard to tell apart." Clinton did all that was asked of her and all Democrats should be proud of her effort.

The McCain campaign was quick to point out that Clinton did not re-affirm Obama's readiness to serve as the nation's commander-in-chief. Had that been the focus of her address, however, today's reaction would be full of comments suggesting she had been insincere. Instead, she focused on bringing her supporters back into the fold and did so as best she could, despite the best efforts of the media to convince you otherwise. Now, I'm not sure if the healing moment will last, but Clinton did what she needed to do last night. Of course, if this speech is followed with more lackluster campaign appearance from Clinton on Obama's behalf, it may all be for not. But we're getting ahead of ourselves with such thinking.

Heading into day three, the Democrats have gotten what they needed to out of Denver so far (whether the media coverage has allowed voters to see that is another story). Expect an even more aggressive approach tonight when vice presidential nominee Joe Biden takes the stage. We'll be watching.

Cross-posted at Political Realm.

1 comment:

jurahar said...

The issue with Hillary and Bill Clinton giving less than their full support to Obama have been put to the competitive test with McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as the first woman to become Vice President of the United States.

I think they will be saying who is ready to lead and who is not quite clearly and loudly now.

Hillary and Bill will be fighting more than Obama and Biden to stop the McCain/Palin.

Hopefully, the Hillary and Bill "By Any Means Necessary" campaign to save that spot in Women's history for Hillary will begin.