Democrats begin four days Monday that will make history, as they nominate the first woman ever to run on a major party ticket. But getting there is going to be rocky.
Sunday saw the resignation of Party Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, after WikiLeak leaks revealed the party was helping Hillary Clinton in the primaries. Monday, Clinton rival Bernie Sanders will address his delegates, who are threatening a challenge to Clinton running-mate Tim Kaine. They’re considering walkouts during acceptance speeches.
Success here will defined simply: Democrats must demonstrate that Hillary Clinton should be president, that her experience as a secretary of state, U.S. senator and First Lady makes her one of the more qualified candidates of recent times. And that even Democrats agree.
To get there, the convention has to navigate that obstacle course of controversy and concern. Here are 10 things to watch that will determine whether Clinton winds up the week bouncing to a big lead over Republican Donald Trump or faces a too-close-to-call brawl all summer and fall:
1.Will the WikiLeaks turmoil dominate the convention? It already took over the lead-in, thanks to the stunning resignation of Wasserman Schultz. The emails from the Democratic National Committee showing an eagerness to promote Clinton over Sanders confirmed what Sanders and his backers have suspected for months. Sanders so far hasn’t called for any sort of protest. Watch his meeting Monday with his delegates for clues to see how things proceed.
2.Will the uproar over Kaine roil the convention? Liberal groups have been protesting since the Friday night announcement. They’re annoyed at his backing of bank deregulation, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other views. They want an alternative, but have none yet and finding someone credible is going to be tough.
3. Will the email server controversy persist? Democrats are unlikely to bring up Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state, except to say it’s a Republican tantrum. This one’s a potential problem, because even bringing up the subject at the convention invites more attention.
4. How will the party deal with Benghazi? See the email controversy above, then plug in the 2012 terrorist attack in Libya that killed four Americans. Or substitute regime change in Libya, the Syrian civil war, or almost anything Clinton did as secretary of state. Republicans spent their convention bashing her record. Clinton will dwell on the triumphs, notably the 2011 capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.
5. How much Trump-bashing is too much? Yes, his poll negatives are HUGE. But so are Clinton’s. And Trump’s still in a position to win the election. Wasserman Schultz called Trump “unhinged,” but he has shown an appeal to people fed up with Washington.
6. Can Clinton be more likeable? She’s going to appear with her daughter Chelsea just before giving her acceptance speech Thursday night. No doubt her grandchildren will be mentioned. Will Sanders backers just sit silently, or even walk out?
7. Will Bill Clinton or Barack Obama steal the show? Both have soared at previous conventions. Both are warmly regarded by Democrats. And both can tap deep nostalgia for policies and emotions of the past. Hillary Clinton’s gonna have some tough acts to follow.
8. Any up and coming Democratic stars? The party needs fresh, younger talent. Clinton is 68, Sanders is 74. Martin O’Malley, former governor of Maryland, presented his candidacy last year as someone from a new generation. He’s 53. Watch to see if someone younger shines.
9. Will young voters warm to Clinton? Sanders often tripled or quadrupled Clinton’s vote among votes under 30. While young voters aren’t flocking to Trump, Democrats worry they’ll stay home. Look for a parade of younger speakers trying to assure colleagues Democrats are on their side. And look for Sanders backers to question whether that’s so.
10. Can the party leave Philadelphia unified? Tough call. Wasserman Schultz was removed as convention chairman after the WikiLeaks flap, then had to quit her party post under pressure. But she’ll still gavel the convention open and shut, which means there will be plenty of chatter about her and WikiLeaks all week.
Chances are Sanders’ backers won’t be satisfied by Thursday. Sanders, say his backers, is more than a man, he represents a movement. “It’s all a quest to galvanize and walk in the footsteps of nonviolent protest for social justice in this country,” said Norman Solomon, national coordinator of Bernie Delegates Network.