Two days into the Democratic National Convention in Denver, we’ve seen tons of pressure put on the keynote speeches of Michelle Obama Monday night and Hillary Clinton last night.
You have to admit; they were both home runs, in terms of doing what they were intended to do.
Michelle Obama, wife of the presumptive democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, spoke to help her husband with voters who are not yet comfortable with or don’t feel like they know Barack on a personal level. According to some pundits, she also needed to wipe away the caricature that opponents have drawn of her as an unpatriotic radical black activist.
Michelle Obama did just that by delivering a speech loaded with family stories and basic American values. By the time Barack Obama did his live-via-satellite goodnight to his family at the end of the night, you couldn’t possibly still feel like the Obamas were calculating elitist politicians.
The real attention was always focused on last night, as Hillary Clinton’s speech was billed as a make-or-break chance for her to unite the party and pull her supporters onto the Obama bandwagon. Prior to convention, polls had a quarter of her supporters planning to vote for John McCain. There were fears that her more radical delegates would attempt to make a scene at convention, which would be disastrous for the party.
As a field organizer for Hillary’s campaign, I encountered many of these supporters in places like Texas and Pennsylvania. My Texan Hillary supporters in particular were very afraid of Obama, and had already decided to vote for McCain should Hillary not be the nominee. For the most part, it was the rumors of Obama being a Muslim and possible connections to terrorism that were being perpetuated in anonymous emails and some right-wing media. In Pennsylvania, it had more to do with an inability to relate to or connect with Obama.
At the Pepsi Centre in Denver last night, her supporters were well managed by the presence of an army of convention volunteers called “floor whips” circulating and discouraging delegates and attendees from falling out of line. Hillary signs were also distributed to the entire delegation so that everyone would be holding them up anyway when she came on stage.
Hillary’s speech was preceded by a video celebrating her campaign efforts, which easily brought tears to not only her delegates present, but also myself and a couple other Hillary supporters who text messaged me after. “I’m already tearing up,” said a friend of mine from Michigan. “So much so I can barely see the ugly orange pantsuit that makes her look like she should be picking up trash on the side of the highway.”
In her bright orange pantsuit, the senator from New York proclaimed her total support for Obama, provoking a roar from the entire convention crowd. This was truly a perfectly orchestrated event.
For those of her supporters who were not sold by a simple endorsement, Hillary’s speech even included a clear rationalization for voting for Obama in November. “I want you to ask yourselves,” she said. “Were you in this campaign just for me? Or were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible?”
Hillary’s words reminded Democrats that Obama’s views and goals were not unlike her own, and that her fight could be continued through him.
She also added some well-worded digs at McCain, saying that she was not surprised they would both be in the twin cities next week (for the Republican convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota) as lately it was hard to tell them apart.
One of the most if not the most impressive speech of her career, Clinton was remarkably fired up to support her party, despite the likelihood that if McCain wins, she is all-but a shoe-in for the Democratic nomination in 2012.
In the words of a friend who blogs in Montreal, she raised the bar for Obama. She was so charismatic and presidential, that if Obama is anything less than perfect on Thursday night, it may make some democrats doubt their choice.
One of the best ways to judge how effective a major campaign speech was is to see how much opponents need to reach to put a negative spin on it. Republican spin-doctors were hard at work last night with their argument that Hillary did not retract her major criticisms of Obama during the primaries, like his lack of experience and specific policy details.
You couldn’t really expect her to take back what she had said to her supporters for months, it would have undermined her ability to convince them to follow what she says moving forward. “Don’t go back, move forward,” said a friend and Hillary supporter from Wisconsin. “She did what she had to do,” said another from New York, who was lucky enough to get a ticket to convention.
Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama have set the stage for Bill Clinton and Vice-Presidential Candidate Joe Biden tonight, and Barack Obama with Al Gore tomorrow night at Invesco Field. If like me, you’re tired of listening to Wolf Blitzer blabber on, you can watch all the events unedited live in HD at www.demconvention.com
Alex Leduc is a freelance columnist and blogger, as well as a journalism student at Concordia University. All his political columns are available at www.alexleduc.com