Elections

6 things to watch for at this week’s Democratic National Convention

Jimmy Wright installs the Pennsylvania delegation placard ahead of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Sunday, July 24, 2016.
Jimmy Wright installs the Pennsylvania delegation placard ahead of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Sunday, July 24, 2016. AP

Hillary Clinton may be in Charlotte on Monday, but the delegates who will nominate her for president this week will be in Philadelphia kicking off their party’s convention.

What should you watch for between the opening gavel on Monday afternoon and Clinton’s acceptance speech Thursday night?

Here are six things:

1. How full-throated will Bernie Sanders be in supporting Hillary Clinton?

He’s already endorsed her, so don’t expect the Vermont senator to pull a Ted Cruz when he speaks to the convention Monday night.

But TV pundits and political reporters will carefully study Sanders’ body language and his words as he addresses his supporters in the hall and those watching at home. Will he salute Clinton with gusto and urge his many young fans to vote for her in November – rather than stay home or back a third-party candidate? Or will he merely raise the specter of a President Donald Trump, the GOP nominee Sanders called a would-be dictator in a tweet during last week’s Republican National Convention?

The self-described democratic socialist got the liberal party platform he wanted. And he and his supporters no doubt felt some vindication Sunday with the announcement that Debbie Wasserman Schultz – the party chairwoman accused of tilting the Democratic National Committee in Clinton’s direction during the primaries – would resign after this week’s convention.

Still, Sanders and his supporters would have been a lot happier if Clinton had chosen Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another hero of progressives, as her running mate instead of Sen. Tim Kaine. They say the Virginia senator has wavered on the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact and signed a letter urging federal regulators to loosen rules on regional banks.

Even more infuriating for the Sanders’ allies on the left: The thousands of internal email exchanges among party officials – released by hackers on the website WikiLeaks – that included a discussion about how Sanders’ religion could be used against him in the Kentucky and West Virginia primaries. He’s Jewish.

2. How much of Kaine’s speech will be in Spanish?

When the Clinton-Kaine ticket debuted at a Saturday rally in Miami, Kaine showed off the fluent Spanish he honed decades ago while serving as a Catholic missionary in Honduras. Many Latino voters are already eager to vote against Trump and his plans to build a wall on the Mexican border and deport 11 million immigrants who came to the United States illegally. But Clinton and Kaine need a big turnout from Latinos – the country’s fastest-growing voter group – if they hope to collect the electoral votes in such key battleground states as Florida, Colorado and Arizona.

The Clinton campaign hopes the moderate senator from Virginia can reach out to other groups up for grabs, including swing-state Southerners, suburban women and Catholics – the voter group that has backed the winner in eight of the 10 U.S. presidential elections since 1972.

Will the sunny, smiling Kaine – even GOP senators say he’s a nice guy – be able to win over liberals?

3. Will President Barack Obama return the favor from Bill Clinton?

At the 2012 convention in Charlotte, former President Bill Clinton made a better argument for an Obama second term than Obama himself did. Pundits dubbed Clinton the “Explainer-in-Chief” after his 50-minute speech.

When Obama speaks Wednesday night, will he adopt the same role, making the case for a President Hillary Clinton not only by promoting her experience, but by answering the attacks against her and going after Donald Trump?

Most presidents preparing to leave office have used their last convention speeches to burnish their own records for history. In Obama’s case, it’s in his interest to use his address to become “Cheerleader-in-Chief.” A victory for Trump in November could mean a dismantling of the Obama legacy in January.

4. What future president could emerge?

The most memorable speech at the Democrats’ 2004 convention in Boston wasn’t delivered by Sen. John Kerry or Sen. John Edwards – the running mates nominated that year. The one history will recall came from a young, little-known Illinois state senator named Barack Obama, who electrified the crowd with his keynote address calling for post-partisan politics.

Who might emerge next week? Most of the prime-time speaking slots will go to already established Democratic stars: Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden.

Kaine, 58, will join the spotlight, but so may other, younger politicos who were on Clinton’s list of vice presidential possibilities. Especially those who also represent the party’s – and the country’s – growing diversity, including Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who is 47, and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who is 41.

5. After the doom and gloom of the GOP convention, will Democrats offer a week of optimism and uplift?

Some commentators said Trump’s acceptance speech at his convention in Cleveland made the United States sound like Gotham City, with Trump as Batman.

The most popular phrase on the convention floor: “Lock her Up!” – meaning Hillary Clinton.

In Philadelphia, Democrats seem ready to accentuate the positive and cast their party as the one that can bring back “Morning in America,” the phrase that helped re-elect President Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Phrases heard so far in Philly: “Love Trumps Hate,” “Building bridges, not walls” and Kaine’s “Do you want a ‘You’re fired’ president or a ‘You’re hired’ president?”

The danger for Democrats: With terrorist attacks abroad and police shootings in America, will their party look like they’re ignoring a real crisis? Look for Clinton, in her acceptance speech, to address that concern by stressing her experience as secretary of state – including her role in giving the green light for the mission to kill Osama bin Laden.

6. How many times will HB2 and/or North Carolina be mentioned?

Democrats in North Carolina and around the country are united in their opposition to the controversial state law, which last week cost Charlotte the 2017 NBA All-Star game.

N.C. Democrats are passing out anti-HB2 buttons in Philadelphia. And LGBT delegates will play a prominent role at the convention.

So will some N.C. officials. Among the speakers set to address the convention: U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., who leads the Congressional Black Caucus.

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