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The Philadelphia Experiment:
What to expect during the Democratic Convention

Todd Webster
July 21, 2016


When Democrats gather in Philadelphia they will not only make history by nominating the first woman to lead a major party Presidential ticket in the 240-year history of our Republic, they will also spend four days and nights in a quadrennial ritual to unify the party around a set of values and prepare to win the most consequential Presidential contest in decades.

While modern political conventions may be criticized as tightly scripted “infomercials” and major television networks no longer provide wire-to-wire nightly broadcast coverage, they are a vital part of a healthy democracy and one of the three pivotal moments in a Presidential campaign.

Along with the announcement of a vice presidential selection and the televised fall debates, the party conventions are a critical moment when the entire country is tuned in to focus on the Presidential campaign.

The formal purpose of the convention is twofold: to have the 4,765 Democratic delegates elect Hillary Clinton to head the Democratic ticket and to adopt the statement of party principles known as the platform.  In late June, a platform drafting committee comprised of appointees named by Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, spent two days drafting the “most progressive platform in history” that calls for a $15 minimum wage, tough new labor standards on trade deals, reform of the nation’s criminal justice system, and a climate plan that puts a price on carbon.  For the first time, the Democratic platform calls for a “reasoned pathway for future legalization” of marijuana, although Clinton herself supports only medical marijuana, not legalization.

For her part, Hillary Clinton’s goals for Philadelphia are simple: Introduce herself to the country by telling her own personal story, unite the Democratic party around her candidacy, and lay out the case for the fall election and the differences between her vision and Donald Trump’s vision for the future of our country.

Tell Hillary’s story on the national stage:

Hillary is famous, she has been in public life for 30 years and has 100 percent name I.D., but campaign officials believe that people don’t actually know her.  The closest analogy is a television news anchor.  Most every American knows who Diane Sawyer is, but very few people know anything about her as a person or know her biography, her passions or her family. 

It has been two decades since the whole country could vote for a Clinton for President.  And since Bill Clinton was on the ballot in 1996 the voting age population has grown by 25 percent.  There are 50 million more Americans who are eligible to vote this year than could vote in 1996 for the Clinton-Gore re-election.

Furthermore polls show that people like Hillary when they are able to hear from her directly.  According to a senior Democrat involved with Hillary’s debate prep in the primary, “throughout her public career, when people listen and really hear Hillary Clinton, they like her a lot.  When she gives a speech, greets a crowd, or testifies before Congress, Hillary impresses with her knowledge and insights.  In Philadelphia, she will have a huge audience of people paying attention to her words, and she has real opportunity to gain significant mind-share.”

“In fact, for Hillary Clinton it’s almost the inverse of the old adage that familiarity breeds contempt,” the staffer continued.  “With Hillary it’s almost like scarcity breeds suspicion.  When people don’t hear from her, they fill in the gaps with negative information.  Her speech on Thursday night is a chance for her to stay in front of the public.”  For the campaign, successfully telling Secretary's Clinton's story is an imperative that will help address any lingering doubts about her trustworthiness or values.

Present a Unified Party:

Notwithstanding the vigorous campaign in which Bernie Sanders and his legions of supporters battled for five hard months of voting the Democratic primary, he has now coalesced behind Hillary.  Senator Sanders stood with Secretary Clinton in New Hampshire, the site of his biggest primary victory and a fall swing state, to make clear his position - he will vote for Secretary Clinton for President and urges his supporters to do the same. 

A senior Democrat who has had executive roles in both the Clinton and Obama administrations made this observation: “Unlike Cleveland, no one is going to Philadelphia to see if they can derail the nomination of the party’s expected nominee.  Our party is remarkably unified.”

The Democrats’ party unity - especially at a time when the Republican party is so fractured - is a point of clear contrast with Donald Trump’s GOP and a critical advantage heading in to the fall.

Draw the contrast and lay out the choice in November:

The final challenge and opportunity is to make the case for November.  Across the four nights of speeches, Democrats will hear from elder statesmen and young upstarts; beloved former elected officials, and the party’s future leaders.

Each will make the case not only that Donald Trump lacks the temperament and judgment to be President, but also that Hillary Clinton is the most prepared and capable candidate to ever seek the nation’s highest office.

“You are going to see real decibel power behind a unified message,” said a Democratic strategist affiliated with the campaign.  “The combination of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, President Bill Clinton, Vice President Biden, President Obama puts a ton of horsepower behind a clear message.  We have an array of compelling, strong, and successful messengers delivering a strong message for Hillary.  Republicans simply cannot match our lineup.  They struggled with which Trump to put onstage each night.”

Conclusion

The Democratic convention in Philadelphia will be more than a coronation of Hillary as the nominee. It will be a chance to introduce Hillary to the American people, demonstrate a united party and to present starkly contrasting visions for the future of the country.

Hillary has run an effective and compelling campaign for more than a year - skillfully putting down an insurgent campaign in an anti-establishment year.  She and her team will run a terrific convention.

- Cornerstone Vice President Todd Webster has attended every Democratic National Convention since 1996, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Denver, and Charlotte.  He will be in Philadelphia for the 2016 celebration.