With Hillary Clinton's Historic Nomination, Democrats Seek to Put Divisions Behind Them

Bill Clinton tries to humanize his wife, who will get additional reinforcement Wednesday from President Obama.

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With the historic nomination of Hillary Clinton and the cooling embers of the Bernie Sanders revolution, Democrats gathered in Philadelphia hoped they had turned a corner Tuesday. The momentous day was capped by a rousing Bill Clinton speech that attempted to humanize a woman who's been defined and redefined over two and a half decades in the national spotlight.

In the most extended applause line of his speech, the former president said Republicans are running against "a cartoon" version of Hillary Clinton, but "earlier today, you nominated the real one."

His address attempted to counter his wife's main political vulnerabilities, from being seen as untrustworthy by large swaths of the American public to a perception that she's too close to the established political system to meaningfully change it.

"This woman has never been satisfied with the status quo on anything. She has always wanted to move the ball forward. That is who she is," Bill Clinton said. "She's a change-maker," he added, a label he used several times.

Bill Clinton began with a happy-go-lucky story of their meeting and ended with a testimonial to her toughness and determination. His speech also glossed over the well-documented troubles in their marriage and the controversies that have dogged them both since Bill Clinton first ran for president in 1992.

Both Clintons and party leaders were eager to change the storyline of the convention, which began with the toppling of Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and rowdy crowds of Sanders supporters who waved placards, chanted his name, jeered Clinton allies, booed her name, and vented about a system they see as rigged.

Hillary Clinton will get additional reinforcement Wednesday when President Barack Obama speaks at the convention. In an interview that aired Wednesday on NBC, Obama said he hoped the headline from his speech would be, "The president of the United States is profoundly optimistic about America's future and is 100 percent convinced Hillary Clinton can be a great president."

Bill Clinton delivered his address a few hours after Democrats made history by becoming the first major U.S. party to nominate a woman for president. The anger of Sanders supporters showed signs of subsiding after their candidate gave his stamp of approval to Hillary Clinton's nomination, though dozens of them staged a protest at the convention site and demonstrations outside the security area caused buses for delegates to be diverted as they headed for hotels closer to downtown Philadelphia.

In a dramatic moment during the roll-call vote on the nomination, Sanders took the microphone as the Vermont delegation was called at the end.  

"I move that all votes, all votes cast by delegates be reflected in the official record," Sanders said. “And I move that Hillary Clinton be selected as the nominee of the Democratic Party for president of the United States," he said before being drowned out by cheers. Delegates erupted in a loud “aye” when the call for the vote was made, though there were some audible “boos” in the arena.

With that, a year-long battle that has divided the party was over.

"I am relieved," Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri said moments after the historic vote to nominate a woman for president. "I thought when Bernie did that it was a great moment for our party.''

That relief was echoed by many of the more experienced delegates in the hall who have their eyes on defeating Republican Donald Trump in the November election. Last week, some Democrats were gloating over the divisions on display when Republicans held their convention in Cleveland.

"Conventions don't work without a little drama and we had not just a little drama, we had some serious drama," said Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii. "There are some people who are not joiners. And they don't want to be part of the Democratic Party or participate in institutions. And there's nothing that can be done about those folks,"

"But the vast majority of delegates, activists and donors understand what's at stake here,'' he said. "It is literally the future of our country, and whether or not we're going to put a uniquely dangerous and unqualified person in charge of the free world.''

Following the nomination vote, much of the remainder of Tuesday's convention was spent defining the nominee. While Trump was occasionally mentioned, speaker after speaker took the stage to describe an interaction with Hillary Clinton or the benefit of a program she championed. That all was a prelude to the former president, who was greeted with cheers and applause as he laid out the chronology of his relationship with the woman he met at Yale Law School 45 years ago. 

Clinton, who aides say wrote his speech himself, emphasized the former first lady’s role as a wife, mother, and advocate as well as a politician. The 69-year-old Clinton, who built his political career on moving Democrats toward the center and now is the elder statesman of a party surging toward the left, steered clear of discussing his own presidential legacy. 

"He still has a visceral connection with a lot of people. Beyond the Obama coalition, I think he really reaches people that the Democratic Party has struggled to get since 2000," said Teege Mettille, a delegate from Ashland, Wisconsin.

There still is a question of whether that connection extends to the fervent Sanders supporters, who party officials worry may sit out the election. During the primary campaign, Sanders regularly whipped up the crowd at his rallies with broadsides against policies that Bill Clinton championed two decades ago, including free trade, deregulation of Wall Street, and a 1994 crime bill that led to a spike in the number of people, many of them black, being arrested and imprisoned.

In seeking to boost his wife’s campaign, the former president has struggled to strike a balance between defending his record and embracing the insurgent wing of today’s Democratic Party.

“People say, ‘Well, we need a change. She’s been around a long time,’" Clinton said in his speech. "She sure has. And she sure has been worth every single year she’s put into making people’s lives better.”

To wrap up the night, Hillary Clinton, 68, spoke by video message to thank the convention for its nomination. "I can't believe we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet," she said, a reference that hearkened back to her 2008 convention speech.

"I may become the first woman president," she added, "but one of you is next."

—With assistance from Mark Niquette, Jennifer Epstein, Terrence Dopp, Billy House, and Mike Dorning.

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