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Evans

Democratic Convention Day #2

Sean Evans, Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science
Aug 27, 2008

Make no mistakes, last night was Hillary Clinton's night. As the Fix pointed out, there were 5 things that Hillary had to do and she did them. She acknowledged her supporters, use humor (least important in my book), connect the Clinton and Obama messages, go after McCain, and appear magnanimous. She did all of these.

The most effective thing she did was make the political and policy connection between Obama and herself. This she did by mentioning her issues were Obama's issues, reminding her supporters that that were in the race not just for her but for the issues and Obama agrees with them, and the consequences of McCain victory (4 more years of Bush). In fact, her best lines made these points whether "No Way. No How. No McCain," the twin cities/Bush and McCain twin reference, and were you in it for me?

This is important because political science studies of competitive primaries show that the two main reasons why supporters of losing candidates support the eventual party nominee is ideological proximity and personal distaste. Clinton's speech reminded them that Obama is almost identical to her in her policy positions and that Obama is a lot better than McCain.

Many commentators have made much of the fact that Clinton did not address Obama's qualifications to be president, especially after the success of the 3am ad. And I will admit that her speech would have been better with that. However, Hillary supporters will not vote for Obama because they believe that Hillary likes him. Democratic voters will support him for the issues and party success.

In some of the news stories today, they talked about not how all Hillary supporters were on board. They interviewed several who said that they would not vote for McCain but that they would not work for Obama. However, they did mention that they would work on lower level races. No difference. If you can get someone to the polls to vote for a Democrat for congress or state legislature, I doubt that they will skip the biggest race on the ballot. Working for state and local candidates help Obama.

The big question that I have is did Hillary's message get through? Listening to the talking heads before and after the speech, all the talk was about the split between the Clintons and Obama and between his and her supporters. While I have no doubts that there are still some negative feelings (especially with Bill), the media is making too much of it.

Obama has done his part to be magnanimous. He has helped her raise money to pay off her campaign debt, gave her a prime time speaking role at the convention, is allowing her to have her name placed in nomination, and gave her several planks in the platform.

Clinton has responded in kind. She made a good speech, she has a whip team on the floor to make sure that her supporters to not engage in anti-Obama rhetoric or demonstrations, she has released her delegates, and pledged to cast her super delegate vote for Obama this afternoon.

The problem is that Team Clinton continues to carp behind the scenes which steals the media spotlight from the speech to the in-fighting. Obama does not need that. Moreover, the Clintons need to understand that Obama won. They need to reconcile with the party as much, if not more if she wants a political future, with Obama. She needs to stop the carping and rallying her close associates behind Obama.

While we make a lot of the infighting, we also need to remember that the main event is on Thursday night. More people watch the acceptance speech than any other part of the convention. In fact, Nielson ratings for acceptance speeches are extremely high. If Obama can give the speech of his career, all will be forgotten and he will be that much closer to the White House.