August 27, 2008
There are three types of Democratic Party regulars at the convention: Clinton supporters, Obama supporters, and former Clinton supporters who have moved on.
The latter two, it appeared Tuesday night, far outnumber the first group.
The storyline is shifting.
On Sunday and early Monday – until Michelle Obama's speech Monday evening – there was a very real question about how Hillary Clinton, her supporters, and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, might affect the convention. By the time Hillary Clinton spoke Tuesday night, although the atmosphere inside Denver's Pepsi Center was heightened, a certain fatigue had set in. Only a few hundred supporters rallied earlier in the day, less than expected. On a day that, more than any other in the convention, was to be about her – a day also marked the 80th anniversary of women's suffrage – it seemed like most already had moved on.
Her speech itself drew mostly rave reviews in the national press, such as this New York Times article. But it's questionable as to whether it changed the dynamics of the equation – minds already were made up.
Before her speech, El Paso delegate Aaron Paz, who earlier in the convention had talked about circulating a petition to draft her as a vice presidential nominee, said "Hillary will say all the right things – that's why we love her. But the delegates are smarter than that."
He said that what really hurt was Obama's not considering her as a vice presidential candidate. Still, he said, "I don't want you to think I'm not going to vote for him." Paz said he will remain a loyal Democrat. But he will not go the extra mile, phone banking, field organizing, contributing, generally helping with the campaign.
"He thinks he can do it on his own. Good luck to him. I wish he had united us," Paz said.
But it might not matter. Paz was speaking from the Texas delegation, one of the most split in the nation, but one of the least relevant. In the hierarchy of the convention, where the swing states, and the home states of the candidates, are favored with floor spots, Texas was not quite out of sight on the edge of the stage like, say, South Dakota, but it wasn't front and center, either.
And, as described in detail in this American Prospect article, Obama quietly has taken control of much of the party machinery. Essentially, it is his organization now, and while the Clintons are relevant as major players, it clearly is Obama's game.
There is one last hurdle, however, the nominating process. As of this morning, the details still were being worked out, in hopes of avoiding a fight on the floor that might embarrass the party and put the lie to the idea that anything changed last night.
Clinton's speech, which can be read here, had moments of genuine connection with the audience, such as when she said she would always be grateful to "everyone from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the territories … who joined our campaign on behalf of all those people left out and left behind by the Bush administration. To my supporters, to my champions, to my sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits." The crowd, which filled every seat in the stadium and greeted her with a three-minute ovation, laughed, and cheered.
But a moment later, when she finished the sentence with a reference to her campaign – "thank you, because you never gave in and you never gave up" – some Obama supporters flinched.
She pulled the crowd together with attacks on U.S. Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee. She ended a call-and-response with this line: "John McCain says the economy is fundamentally sound. John McCain doesn’t think 47 million people without health insurance is a crisis. John McCain wants to privatize Social Security. And in 2008, he still thinks it’s OK when women don’t earn equal pay for equal work.
"Now, with an agenda like that, it makes perfect 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."
Her attacks on McCain were important, because he has used her own attacks on Obama in ads he started running this week, as described in this National Post article. A group of McCain operatives in Denver is trying to lure disaffected Clinton supporters, and the Website notready08 is being used to hammer home the theme raised by Hillary Clinton during the primary.
She did not specifically refute those attacks or her past words, but she did open the speech by identifying herself as a proud American and "a proud supporter of Barack Obama."
During the speech, she referred to the challenges ahead, saying "We have a lot of work ahead of us: jobs lost; houses gone; falling wages; rising prices; the Supreme Court in a right-wing headlock; and our government in partisan gridlock; the biggest deficit in our nation’s history; money borrowed from the Chinese to buy oil from the Saudis; Putin and Georgia; Iran and Iraq."
She left no doubt that as a Democrat she supports Obama, even as she made reference to former President Clinton's legacy.
"When Barack Obama is in the White House, he’ll revitalize our economy, defend the working people of America, and meet the global challenges of our times.
"Democrats know how to do this. As I recall, we did it before with President Clinton and the Democrats.
"And if we do our part, we’ll do it again with President Obama and the Democrats."
The question of legacy is an important one. As much as Clinton was perceived to hold a strong hand, given her fight to the finish and her strong supporters, she now is in an almost no-win situation. If Obama does not win, she will be partly blamed. In this politico.com article, Roger Simon writes that "if Barack Obama loses this fall, the Democrats will be devastated, and if Hillary Clinton is viewed has having contributed to that loss by encouraging and maintaining a rift within the party, she will be severely damaged. Tuesday night she said some of the right words. But between now and November, Hillary Clinton can go out and work to heal the wounds or sit back and keep them open."
Many of her supporters have moved on.
Texas state Sen. Carlos Uresti, whose district mostly is San Antonio but represents about 35,000 people in East El Paso, was with the Clintons in El Paso.
He said that "obviously Barack Obama will be the nominee. I'm here to show support."
With some major downticket races statewide and in El Paso, Uresti said that bringing the Hispanic population over to Obama and the Democrats is vital.
In fact, Obama announced a $20 million program to strengthen that connection, the El Paso Times reported. The paper quoted Eliseo Roques, vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee's Hispanic Caucus, as saying that "Certainly Hispanics hold the key to winning the White House, so we are very committed to that."
He spoke after the Latino Leaders Network lunch Tuesday.
El Paso state Rep. Norma Chavez was at the lunch, which honored former Denver mayor and U.S. Energy Secretary Federico Pena. Other figures spoke, such as N.M. Gov. Bill Richardson and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
She called it a signal of achievement, to go from an era 30 years ago when civil rights and political activists were organizing Latinos to an event where some of the original leaders – such as Dolores Huerta of the United Farmworkers – rub elbows with high-powered politicians.
The Clintons hearken back to that era as well, and, particularly in South Texas and parts of California, still are remembered as grassroots activists; for example, for efforts in Texas to organize voters for the 1972 McGovern campaign.
State Rep.-elect Carol Alvarado of Houston said "people forget there is a strong bond between Texas and Hillary Clinton."
Before Clinton's speech, Alvarado said she expected to hear a clear distinction between McCain and Obama, something that did happen.
Becky Costilla, a delegate from Brownsville, said that her delegation was split on the Clinton-Obama issue. "It's hard," she said, "but we'll come together." In their case, state Sen. Eddie Lucio is a Clinton delegate, and his son, state Rep. Eddie Lucio, is an Obama delegate.
Right before Clinton spoke, the ushers or floor whips or pages passed out white signs emblazoned with the name Hillary, and red signs that read, "McCain, more of the same."
But something interesting happened as Clinton began to speak.
The ushers or floor whips or pages started passing out a different placard, a narrow vertical blue sign on a long stick. On one side, the sign had the word "Unity," and on the other, either "Obama" or "Clinton."
It was Hillary Clinton's night, but it was clear it's Barack Obama's convention.