Tuesday - As she took center stage at the Denver Democratic convention, there was a huge amount of pressure on Hillary Clinton. She followed not only the keynote address of former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, but also the unexpectedly dynamic oration of Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. And many Dems felt Senator Clinton's presentation would determine whether or not Democrats united behind presidential nominee Barack Obama. Clinton proved equal to the task, responding with the best speech of her career.
Of the several objectives of the convention, none was more important than Democratic Party unity. There's been a growing concern - nurtured by the mainstream media - that many Hillary supporters would vote for John McCain. Recent polls have provided strikingly different assessments of what Clinton advocates intend to do. On the one hand, Delegates seem to have made up their minds. A recent New York Times poll indicated that more than 90 percent Of Hillary delegates plan to support Barack Obama -- only 5 percent said they wouldn't. On the other hand, a recent USA Today poll indicated that 30 percent of Clinton supporters will either vote for McCain or no one at all. The most recent Pew Research Poll had a comparable finding: 18 percent of Hillary voters indicated they would support McCain and 10 percent said they either wouldn't vote or hadn't decided. (Yet, despite this alarming trend, the most recent Emily's List poll gave Obama a 51 to 39 percent lead over McCain, which would indicate that the Illinois Senator is running stronger among women than any Democratic Presidential candidate since Bill Clinton.)
Judging from conversations with Hillary supporters, they don't believe the Obama campaign has treated her with respect. Some, like Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, feel the mainstream media and Obama people were sexist. Others -- mostly older women -- feel the male Democratic leadership was biased towards Obama; the primary process was "unfair." And many Hillary voters were miffed that Senator Obama didn't choose her as his vice-presidential running mate.
To stem the defection of disgruntled Dems, Hillary Clinton's speech had to accomplish two things: She had to endorse Obama in unequivocal terms and point out all the reasons why McCain would be a terrible decision. Senator Clinton accomplished both objectives, giving a rousing speech, which had many Democrats wondering why she hadn't been able to show the same energy during her campaign.
From the opening, the New York Senator strongly endorsed Obama. She began with the declaration "I am honored to be... a proud supporter of Barack Obama." And implored the delegates: "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." "Barack Obama is my candidate."
But a ringing endorsement alone wouldn't have been sufficient. Hillary Clinton had to mention John McCain and provide reasons why Hillary voters should chose Obama over McCain. Senator Clinton began this aspect of her address with an admonition: "No way. No how. No McCain." She continuously linked McCain and George Bush and argued that a McCain presidency would mean another four years of Bush policies. "With an [ineffective] agenda like that, 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."
Despite these strong sentiments, Democratic partisans wanted more from the New York Senator; they wanted a personal statement to her supporters saying "I want you to support Barack Obama." This entreaty came halfway through the speech when Hillary remembered some of the disadvantaged Americans she'd met along the campaign trail, such as a single mom with no health care. Senator Clinton addressed her partisans: "I want you to ask yourselves: Were you in this campaign just for me? Or... were you in it for that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids?" She argued that Obama will help that single mom, because he believes in the same causes that she does and, therefore, "[real progress] will be impossible if we don't fight to put a Democrat in the White House."
Hillary Clinton concluded with Harriet Tubman's advice about handling adversity: "Don't ever stop. Keep going." The New York Senator admonished her supporters, "remember, before we can keep going, we have to get going by electing Barack Obama president." Hillary warned, "Nothing less than the fate of our nation and the future of our children hang in the balance."
Judging from the response of convention attendees, Hillary Clinton accomplished her objectives. She gave the rousing speech required to unite Democrats.
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