The Democratic convention that begins Monday has one huge goal: Make people like Hillary Clinton. Make her warm, gentle, compassionate.
It won’t be easy.
Clinton’s negatives have been consistently, historically high. Polls show most people don’t trust her. Her public image is that of a humorless technocrat comfortable only with briefing books and old friends and colleagues. Smiles don’t seem to come easily; smirks do.
So get ready to meet warm, caring Hillary Clinton.
She’ll be described as a caring friend and companion by an all-star lineup of the most credible names on the Democratic team. Monday will feature First Lady Michelle Obama. Husband Bill Clinton is up Tuesday, then President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden Wednesday.
Thursday, for the closing act, Chelsea Clinton, the daughter who knows her as mom, will appear before Hillary Clinton delivers her acceptance speech. Chelsea Clinton describes her mother as compassionate and someone capable of almost anything, who would be working to help others during the day and helping her with homework at night.
Warming up viewers and delegates for all this will be a parade of people who have met, worked and been inspired by Clinton.
Monday, Pam Livengood of Keene, N.H., whose family has been affected by the substance abuse epidemic, and will tell the audience about her experiences with Clinton during a visit to the state.
Karla Ortiz of Las Vegas, already featured in a Clinton campaign ad, will describe how her parents are immigrants here illegally and live in fear of deportation. Anastasia Somoza of New York City, an intern in Clinton’s Senate office, will discuss how she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia at birth and is now an advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Tuesday will include Jelani Freeman of Washington D. C., another former Clinton intern. He grew up in foster care, got a law degree and is now working to help at-risk children. In prime time that evening, Mothers of the Movement, women whose children were slain in racially-charged circumstances, will speak. They’ve been featured in a YouTube video praising Clinton’s work on their behalf.
77% Clinton support among African-American voters in this month’s McClatchy-Marist Poll
This rosy scenario is going to have tough competition. Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who fought Clinton till the end, plan to be vocal. They’ll be marching, agitating and trying to mount a convention challenge to change some rules.
They’re highly unlikely to succeed, but if Clinton’s army looks heavy-handed in quieting them, it will set back her image effort.
Deborah Burger, co-president of National Nurses United, which supporters Sanders, will have about 200 delegates. She stresses they’re going as Sanders supporters. “We have not made that decision yet” whether to back Clinton, she said.
Then there’s the Republican Clinton-bashing machine, which spent last week demanding Clinton be jailed for using a private email server while secretary of state.
Overcoming, or at least putting aside, the email furor looms as another part of Clinton’s challenge.
Earlier this month, FBI Director James Comey recommended Clinton not be charged in connection with the email controversy, though he said she and her aides were “extremely careless.”
To many voters, Clinton’s handling of the email turmoil is emblematic of why they are wary of her. It’s the latest chapter of a long-running narrative of mayhem, dating back to controversies from her husband’s 1993-2001 presidency.
After Comey’s decision, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found 56 percent disapproved of his decision, and 28 percent said it made them less likely to vote for Clinton while 10 percent said it made them more likely to back her. Fifty-eight percent said it made no difference.
57% Percentage of Sanders supporters telling McClatchy-Marist Poll they’d vote for Clinton
In a close election, which this one promises to be, the email uproar could matter.
“We’ve known from the beginning of this campaign that Clinton’s personal political history was going to be a drag on her candidacy in a year when voters are looking for a break from politics as usual,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
The convention strategy this week will be to paint the email matter as another example of rabid Republicans exaggerating a small mistake, part of the GOP’s now decades-long crusade to demonize the Clintons.
Clinton has to walk a difficult line at this convention. She wants to stress her experience, and contrast it with Donald Trump’s. She wants to show she’s thoughtful and serious, as opposed to Trump’s bluster and inability to master, or even discuss, detail.
But the more she talks policy, the more she reminds people she’s been a part of so much they want to change.
That’s why the convention’s goal will be to have a warm, caring, and of course serious candidate emerge.
“You have to have a convention that emphasizes the positive things Hillary Clinton has done,” said Blake Rutherford, a Philadelphia-based Democratic strategist.