The Democratic Convention in Philadelphia in the last week of July was always going to be an exciting one because for the first time in history a major American political party was going to nominate a woman to run for President of the United States.
With this as the backdrop, Diana Johnson and I arrived at the convention centre to watch history being made. The beginning of the Convention was overshadowed by the controversy caused by the Wikileaks publication of DNC emails suggesting some staff members had not remained neutral during the primary elections but favoured Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. This could have become a public relations disaster and a major distraction during the Convention but with ruthlessness was neutralised when the chair of the DNC announced her retirement and was replaced as chairing the inaugural meeting of the convention.
Early into the proceedings it became abundantly clear that a chasm had opened up between the Democrats and the Republicans, following the latter’s convention the week before in Cleveland. One aspect of the divide was whether the United States is in a terrible, nearly hopeless fix – or whether it has serious problems but also great, abiding strengths that can fix its problems. There was also the question as to whether politicians are capable of addressing America’s problems or are they so great that they are insoluble. The answer came on the last day of the Convention when Hillary Clinton, in one of the best speeches of her career, outlined her vision for making America greater with a raft of policy proposals that was in stark contrast to the dark, negative acceptance speech of Trump that simply played on people’s fears.
The first speaker who eloquently championed a more optimistic vision for the future compared to Trump’s negativism was Michelle Obama, who electrified the Convention with a much needed schooling on what America is about. She used such words as ‘decency’ and ‘grace’ and character’ and convictions. She talked about the need to make America even better for the next generation and drew contrasts with Trump without engaging in juvenile taunts.
The Vice Presidential nominee, Senator Tim Kaine and Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders all spoke to the campaign theme of ‘Stronger Together’ whilst at the same time laying into Trump. For entertainment we had Katy Perry, Paul Simon, Carole King and a host of other A List celebrities.
Bill Clinton made a highly personal speech about his wife - her strengths and experience and why she should be President. The best speech of the Convention came from Barack Obama. Obviously determined to protect his legacy, he made a stem winder of a speech not only about his legacy but also extolling the virtues and capabilities of Hillary. Time after time the Convention rose to its feet to applaud him.
The highlight of the Convention came with the acceptance speech of Hillary Clinton on the last night. Her challenge was to explain to the audience – both in the convention centre and more importantly those watching at home on television – her vision for America, what motivates and drives her and how she sees the future of America unfolding under a Clinton Presidency. Her attacks on Trump were subtle, sometimes witty and other times going for the jugular especially when talking about who was the most responsible one to be Commander in Chief.
If the instant opinion polls taken after her speech are to be believed, she accomplished this in buckets. The approval ratings for the speech were at 73% (compared to Trumps 57%) and disapproval was as low as 12% (compared to almost 40% for Trump).
What the long term impact the Convention will have on the outcome of the election remains to be seen but within a week of it ending Clinton’s national opinion poll ratings had risen to anything between 9 and 15%. More importantly in swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida and Pennsylvania she was pulling ahead and just ahead in Ohio. Virginia and Colorado moved away from being swing states and amazingly in rock solid Republican Georgia, Clinton had a 4% lead. However there is still 2 months to go before polling day and things can change rapidly during American elections so her campaign cannot afford to be complacent.
The abiding impression of the Convention was how professional it was, the way that it unified the party and people came away from it determined that Clinton and the Democrats retain the Presidency on 8th November and make history by electing America’s first woman president.
Go Hillary go!