PHILADELPHIA – The Democratic National Convention, which begins Monday, has one huge goal: Make people like Hillary Clinton. Make her warm, gentle, compassionate.
It might not be easy.
Clinton’s negatives have been consistently, historically high. Polls show that 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.
So get ready to meet the warm and caring Hillary Clinton over the next week.
She’ll be described as a caring friend by the most credible names on the Democratic team. Monday will feature First Lady Michelle Obama. Former President Bill Clinton is up Tuesday, and then President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Chelsea Clinton will appear before her mother delivers her acceptance speech. Chelsea Clinton describes her mother as compassionate and someone capable of almost anything, someone who would work to help others during the day and help 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.
On Monday, Pam Livengood of Keene, N.H., whose family has been affected by addiction, will tell of her experiences with Clinton during a visit to the state.
Karla Ortiz of Las Vegas, who appears in a Clinton campaign ad, will describe how her parents are immigrants in the U.S. illegally and live in fear of deportation. Anastasia Somoza of New York, who was 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 feature Jelani Freeman of Washington, 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 on Tuesday evening, Mothers of the Movement, women whose children were killed in racially charged circumstances, will tell their tragic and compelling stories.
The rosy portrayal of Clinton will have tough competition. Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who fought Clinton to the end, plan to be vocal. They will march, agitate and try to mount a convention challenge to change some rules.
They’re unlikely to succeed, but if Clinton’s army looks heavy-handed in quieting them, it will set back the effort to improve her image.
Deborah Burger, co-president of National Nurses United, will lead about 200 delegates. She said that they will be there 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 e-mail server while secretary of state.
Overcoming, or at least putting aside, the e-mail furor looms as another part of Clinton’s challenge in Philadelphia.
FBI Director James Comey this month recommended that Clinton not be charged criminally in connection with the e-mail controversy, though he said she and her aides were “extremely careless.”
To many voters, Clinton’s handling of the e-mail controversy is emblematic of why they are wary of her. It’s the latest chapter of a long-running narrative of controversy and questions, dating back to her husband’s 1993-2001 White House tenure.
The convention strategy this week will be to paint the e-mail 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 narrow line at this convention. She wants to stress her experience, and contrast it with Donald Trump’s. She wants to show that she’s thoughtful and serious, as opposed to Trump’s bluster and inability to master, or even discuss, details.
But the more she talks policy, the more she reminds people she’s been a part of so much that they want to change.