If Hillary Clinton thinks she has unified the Democratic Party, she should talk with Keith McClain, a passionate Bernie Sanders supporter from the city of Byron just west of Rochester.
“I’m far from being in the Clinton camp yet. I’m not saying I won’t get there, but you’ve gotta show me. Give me some vision. Stand up for it,” said McClain, who is in Philadelphia this week as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.
McClain illustrates Clinton’s challenge as she caps off more than 40 years in Democratic politics to take the mantle of the party’s presidential nomination: She must win over the Sanders-supporting progressive wing of her party. But she will also need to speak to a broader audience, repairing a public image that has been battered by the recent revelations of the FBI director, who said Clinton’s use of a private server and e-mail during her time as Secretary of State was “extremely careless,” while stopping short of recommending criminal charges.
More than half of Americans said in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll that Clinton should have faced criminal sanction, including an astounding 31 percent of Democrats — many of them likely Sanders supporters she will try to persuade this week. In a more recent poll, just 36 percent called her “honest and trustworthy.”
What remains unclear is how the selection of Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as Clinton’s running mate will placate Sanders supporters and resolve questions of trust among voters. Many Sanders backers had urged a bold pick with a strong liberal lean, like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
After the announcement Friday, state DFL chairman Ken Martin played up Kaine’s experience and steadiness more than his progressive credentials.
“We couldn’t be more proud to have such an experienced, sensible and accomplished team to lead our party,” Martin said.
As Clinton tries to unify Democrats, she has a key advantage: Her opponent, Donald Trump, whose presidency is viewed by Democrats — as well as independents and even some Republicans — as a terrifying possibility.
“People of color are very frightened if Trump gets into office,” said Shakia McDavid, a Sanders delegate who is ready to support Clinton. “That’s going to motivate voters,” said McDavid, a 23-year-old recent college graduate who lives in Brooklyn Park and works as a marketing consultant.
Mara Glubka, a 63-year-old Sanders supporter new to politics who will be one of 24 transgender delegates at the convention, said Trump’s campaign has unearthed what had been submerged hatreds, motivating her to get involved in politics to protect the safety of people like herself.
Even as Clinton accepts her party’s nomination, Trump’s one-man media machine continues to lambaste her just as he assaulted Republican opponents with a slew of personal insults and questionable assertions.
By most appearances, the race for the White House will be an ugly affair, as the two candidates are notable for being the most unpopular presidential nominees in the history of modern polling.
Despite the barrage of attacks on Clinton at the Republican convention in Cleveland last week, the DFL’s Martin said he hopes Clinton draws a contrast with Trump by offering a positive message.
“We need to draw a clear and stark choice to the people about what the stakes of this election are between the two candidates,” said Martin, who has been DFL chairman since 2011. “But I think we need to do that in a positive way and an implied way,” he said. “We need to rise above the fray, take the high road and focus on real solutions.”
If Clinton follows that path rather than merely tearing down Trump, she will have more luck winning over voters like McClain.
“If they think talking about how terrible Donald Trump is will motivate 13 million people who voted for Bernie Sanders, they are mistaken,” McClain said.
Of Trump, he said: “The guy is an imbecile. We get that. We’re educated voters.”
McClain started out as a full-time Sanders volunteer; the campaign liked his work so much they hired him. He said Sanders’ supporters want substance.
“Talk about issues. Talk about the work we’re going to do. Don’t talk about how terrible the other guy is,” he said.
In particular, McClain wants Clinton to pursue Sanders’ agenda on a $15-per-hour minimum wage, a single-payer health care system and a radical change in the country’s energy mix away from fossil fuels.
The Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee have already begun working to mollify Sanders’ backers with concessions on the party platform, which they are calling the most progressive in history.
Sanders was given a prime time speaking slot Monday night, a chance to frame the race and the stakes in his terms.
Closer to home, Martin, a longtime Clinton backer, said he has been working hard to bring the party together.
He said he has worked closely with Rep. Keith Ellison — an early supporter and key figure in the Sanders campaign — to bring the two sides together.
They appointed a co-chair from each camp to work together to organize the state delegation and have held weekly calls and events for all the attendees, including a joint fundraiser to help defray the cost of travel to Philadelphia.
The gestures of reconciliation may be important, but ultimately Clinton will have to close the sale.
Asked if he will support Clinton, Sanders delegation chairman Rod Halvorson said, “I guess you have to ask me that question on the [night of her convention address]. It’s the responsibility of Secretary Clinton to win over the Bernie delegates.”
But that’s just a small part of what Clinton must do in winning over the broader electorate.
Ellen Goldberg Luger is a Minneapolis delegate who has gotten to know Clinton through their shared alumni status at Wellesley College, where Goldberg Luger sits on the board of trustees.
“She cares deeply about other people. Cares deeply about solving problems. Cares deeply about getting things done. And she has a record of doing that,” Goldberg Luger said of Clinton.
But as much as Goldberg Luger wishes voters could get to know the Clinton she has known for two decades, she was not afraid to point to the alternative.
“If you say you don’t trust Hillary Clinton, the question is, do you trust Donald Trump? I certainly don’t, and I’m concerned about the danger of him being the leader of our country.”