PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Hillary Clinton capped off a four-day convention celebration with a plea for national unity and tolerance. Now, one of the most divisive and distrusted figures in American political life must convince voters that she rather than Republican rival Donald Trump can bring a deeply divided nation together.
“I know that at a time when so much seems to be pulling us apart, it can be hard to imagine how we’ll ever pull together again,” Clinton said to a rapt Democratic convention audience. “But I’m here to tell you tonight – progress is possible.”
After a convention speech aimed squarely at undercutting Trump, the first female presidential nominee heads off on a bus tour through two Rust Belt battlegrounds, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The shoot-from-the-hip billionaire believes he can make headway in those states with blue-collar white men, a demographic that has eluded Clinton and was unlikely to be swayed by a convention that heavily celebrated racial and gender diversity.
Clinton, accompanied by running mate Tim Kaine and their spouses, will speak about economic opportunity, diversity and national security, themes hammered home this week by a stream of politicians, celebrities, gun-violence victims, law enforcement officers, and activists of all sexualities and races.
Their goal is to turn out the coalition of minority, female and young voters that twice elected President Barack Obama to the White House and, like Obama, offset expected losses among the white male voters drawn to Trump’s message.
Democrats contrasted their optimistic, policy-laden message with the dark vision and lack of specifics that marked Trump’s speech during the Republican convention a week earlier.
“He’s offering empty promises. What are we offering? A bold agenda to improve the lives of people across our country – to keep you safe, to get you good jobs, and to give your kids the opportunities they deserve,” Clinton said. “The choice is clear.”
The convention provided hours of glowing tributes, including deeply personal testimonials from her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and former boss, President Barack Obama – tributes the party hopes will help her build trust among a skeptical public.
Despite her decades on the public stage, voters know Clinton as much from Republican attacks as her resume. And on Thursday, she acknowledged it.
“I get it that some people just don’t know what to make of me so let me tell you,” she said.
With the general election in full swing, Clinton must find a way to fix that.
The stakes are high: A loss to Trump could not only end Clinton’s political career, it could be a devastating coda to her and her husband’s political legacy and leave the Democratic Party weaker than it has been in a generation.
The Democratic convention was meticulously designed to craft her image as a caring grandmother tough enough to battle terrorists and unite a party still unsettled by a fractious primary process. Clinton, who aides say spent weeks working on her address, saw the speech as a major opportunity to answer what her husband called the “cartoon alternative.”
Lacking Obama’s sweeping rhetoric or the “feel-your-pain” sensitivity of her husband, Clinton leaned into her wonky image, saying: “I sweat the details of policy.”
And Clinton offered an open hand to backers of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, saying: “I’ve heard you. Your cause is our cause.”
Yet resentments lingered throughout the convention, with a handful of attendees booing during her address.
Clinton aides dismissed the protests as little more than a few holdouts. “Are there people who are still emotional and wish we didn’t get 3.7 million more votes? Yeah,” said Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. “I think most of them are going to come around.”
Jackie Baumgardner, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, a Democrat who volunteered to help delegates with disabilities, said, “I think we were all lifted up tonight and we’re going to work to get her elected.”
Throughout the convention, Democrats tried to convey the stakes of the election not only to Sanders backers but Republicans concerned about Trump’s bombastic tone and foreign policy positions.
Speaker after speaker cast Trump as intolerant, inexperienced and dangerous, including the Pakistani-immigrant father of a Muslim American soldier killed in Iraq, who waved the Constitution and remarked that Trump “has sacrificed nothing.”
In a first for a Democratic convention, a number of Republican economic and foreign policy leaders hammered home the point.
“I knew Ronald Reagan. I worked for Ronald Reagan. Donald Trump, you are no Ronald Reagan,” said Doug Elmets, a Reagan administration aide, echoing a famous debate quip by vice presidential nominee Lloyd Bentsen in 1988. “This year, I will vote for a Democrat for the first time.”
Asserting Clinton’s national security capabilities were a group of military leaders, including retired Gen. John Allen, the former deputy commander of the wars in the Middle East, who called Clinton the kind of “commander in chief America needs”
With Clinton, “our international relations will not be reduced to a business transaction,” Allen said. “I also know that our armed forces will not become an instrument of torture.”
Trump dismissed such attacks as “a lot of lies” during a campaign rally earlier Thursday in Davenport, Iowa, and criticized the Democrats for not talking about terrorism or laying out a plan to aid the nation’s economy.