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Historic embrace

Published: Sunday, July 24, 2016 @ 12:01 AM
Updated: Sunday, July 24, 2016 @ 6:42 PM
By: Lynn Hulsey - Staff Writer

So now, it’s the Democrats’ turn.

After a Republican convention in Cleveland that had its share of floor fights, boycotts and party infighting, Democrats are hoping for a predictably conventional convention here this week, high on passion and unity and low on drama.

“The goal of the convention: unify and energize,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper.

Unlike the Republicans, who were missing some of their more prominent voices in Cleveland, including Ohio Gov. John Kasich, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and former President Bill Clinton will all take turns on the stage during a week that will culminate with Hillary Clinton accepting the mantle of the first female major party nominee for president.

If there is inflighting at the convention, it will probably come early with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ address to the delegates on Monday. Whether Sanders’ supporters get behind Clinton’s candidacy is one of the major questions going foward.

Ohio delegates say Clinton must use the convention to unify Democrats, not just by bringing into the fold the diehard supporters of Sanders, her primary rival during the primaries, but also exciting them to work for her.

“She’s got to unify her own party before she can reach out to the general electorate,” said delegate Jim Underwood of Hilliard, a retired university journalism instructor. “So, job one is convincing the Bernie delegates that she is worthy of their support.”

Sanders delegate David Sparks of Clayton said Clinton can’t take support from the Sanders’ delegates for granted.

He said the Vermont senator’s delegates will be focused on participating in all party voting that occurs at the convention to be sure their voices are heard and in an effort move the “political dialogue and action toward what we support.”

“I’d rather see people fight it out over ideas. That’s is the sign of a vibrant democracy,” said Sparks, who is running against State Rep. Jeff Rezabek, R-Clayton, in November’s election.

Pepper said Democrats already made some headway on stitching together the Clinton and Sanders camps, with Sanders endorsing Clinton and the platform committee including many progressive ideas supported by Sanders. Clinton’s former rival is scheduled to speak Monday at the convention.

Delegates said Clinton must highlight her credentials as an experienced and skilled leader in an uncertain world, drawing a contrast with the politically unseasoned Trump, while attempting to allay the negative feelings so many voters have for her.

“Ultimately,” said Bexley resident David Wilhelm, “her competitive advantage and the message contrast that works for her is that she’s got the steady hand, she is ready for the job, she’s got the necessary experience, she has the ability to deal with a complex and sometimes frightening world, and she has the toughness and judgment to lead.”

That message, “is contrasted against what people are most concerned about Donald Trump – the riskiness he represents, the lack of steadiness and readiness,” said Wilhelm, who managed the 1992 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton and is former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

“I find nothing in the Republicans agenda that would cause a reasonable person to vote for Donald J. Trump,” said former Springfield Commissioner Dale Henry, who will not be attending the convention but is a Clinton supporter.

Henry, a former Clark County Democratic Party chairman, said he expects the convention to feature “a lot more substance in terms of what Hillary Clinton is going to do once she becomes president. I think she has a lot more experience in terms of what types of policies the people want to see right now.”

‘Calming voice’

Using the convention to get voters to focus on her attributes won’t be easy for Clinton given the profound lack of trust in her that public polling consistently has shown.

A few Ohio delegates said Clinton should use the convention to address head on the issues that have tarnished her image, including the murder of Americans in Benghazi, Libya, that occurred while she was secretary of state and the scandal involving her use of a private email server. But others say Clinton’s primary mission will be to proffer a vision that expands her appeal.

“She needs to have a message that reaches beyond Democrats, that gets to independents and moderate Republicans, and even to Republicans who aren’t that moderate, because we’ve seen some of them say publicly how troubled they are by Donald Trump,” said Pepper.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther agreed, saying Clinton must personify “the very calming force” that she was in the U.S. Senate and as secretary of state.

“Sen. Sanders is very important to Hillary’s success so she has to continue to unify and reassure progressives, but also start talking to independents who after seeing the two primary seasons and the two nominees feel like they’re looking at two extremes,” Ginther said.

Bethe A. Goldenfield, chairwoman of the Warren County Democratic Party, said the best approach for Democrats is to show a contrast with “this negativity we see out of the Republican convention and the Republican campaign.”

“If it was me I’d be just talking about her positives and all the things she’s accomplished,” said Goldenfield, who is not a delegate and so won’t be attending the convention. “The haters are going to hate and the haters are going to keep bringing up all the conspiracy theory stuff.”

Stark choice

Harrell Kirstein, communications director for the Clinton campaign in Ohio, said the Republican and Democratic conventions will underscore “the stark choice” of November’s election.

“Chaos and disunity reigned in Cleveland, clearly previewing the dysfunction, divisiveness and danger we can expect from a Trump presidency,” he said.

In contrast, said Kirstein, Democrats can unite behind Clinton and “also our shared vision for an America that is stronger together, with an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top.”

During his acceptance speech Thursday night, Trump painted an extremely negative portrait of Clinton and said he is ready to serve as a law and order president who will “liberate our citizens from the crime and terrorism and lawlessness that threatens their communities.”

He promised immediate change that will chart a new course for the country both at home and aboard.

Brittany Warner, a spokeswoman for Ohio Republican Chairman Matt Borges, said the party is united in the fight against Clinton and ready to take the fight to her.

“People are angry that she broke the rules and escaped prosecution when she put our national security in risk,” Warner said. “Poll after poll shows that most Americans find Hillary Clinton dishonest and untrustworthy, and the word they most associate with her is dishonest.”

State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, said Democrats this week will “trot out the same lines you heard in 2012….You’re going to hear the out of touch, dependency-creating policies that Democrats have been profligating for a long time.”

Rallying point

Just as Barack Obama’s historic candidacy fueled Democrats in 2008, the nomination of the first woman for president in the country’s history is expected to be a rallying point for Democrats in Philadelphia.

“I’m excited about being able to cast a vote for the first female nominee and hopefully the person who will be the first female president,” said Jocelyn Bucaro, chairwoman of the Butler County Democratic party and a Clinton delegate. “It’s long past time.”

The first woman to run for president was an Ohioan, Victoria Woodhull, who as the candidate for the National Equal Rights Party in 1872 wasn’t even allowed to vote, and she spent that Election Day in jail, said Caroline Merithew, associate professor of history at the University of Dayton.

There have been few other minor party female candidates in the years since, but the Green Party is expected to nominate Jill Stein in August. Merithew and others said it is impossible to minimize how historic a Clinton nomination will be.

“It’s a big deal,” said Mark Caleb Smith, director of Cedarville University’s Center for Political Studies. “Whether she wins or loses it’s a serious step in America.”

Staff Writer Will Garbe contributed to this report.