Clinton Reaches Beyond Stalwart Democrats to Build a Coalition Against Trump

Along with diehard Sanders supporters, Clinton is looking to convert disaffected Republicans

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"It takes a village” became a mainstream catch phrase in the U.S. after it appeared as the title of a 1996 bestseller in which then-first lady Hillary Clinton argued that all of society, not just the family, has a stake in every child’s success.

Accepting the Democratic nomination for president on Thursday night in Philadelphia as the first woman to be chosen by a major U.S. political party, Clinton, 68, returned to that African proverb for her strategy to defeat Republican Donald Trump in November. It may take more than stalwart Democrats for Clinton to reach the White House, so she's hoping to assemble her own village of disaffected Republicans, independents, military veterans, white men, as well as women liberals and minorities.   

“I will carry all of your voices and stories with me to the White House,” Clinton said, no matter “whatever party you belong to or if you belong to no party at all. I will be a president for Democrats, Republicans, and independents. For the struggling, the striving, and the successful. For those who vote for me and those who don't. For all Americans.”

The Democratic convention and Clinton's speech were opportunities for her to reach voters turned off by Trump. But she still confronts doubts about her trustworthiness within her own party, as well as the broader voting public, and she'll be building her coalition one group at a time.  

Her first task is closing the deal with the diehard supporters of her primary rival, Bernie Sanders. She thanked Sanders in her remarks for putting economic and social justice issues "front and center."

"And to all of your supporters here and around the country," she said, "I want you to know, I've heard you. Your cause is our cause."

While some Sanders delegates grudgingly conceded they would vote for Clinton, a handful continued to heckle her even as she took the stage to accept the nomination. 

Dylan Workman, 19, a delegate from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said he was a Sanders supporter throughout the primary and had come around to supporting Clinton on the last day of the convention. The small acts of defiance during her speech made an impression.

"I would still classify myself as a Bernie Sanders supporter but her speech tonight, and looking at some of the negativity you saw surrounding the protests tonight, I am looking toward the general election and I'll definitely be supporting Hillary," Workman said. 

Each of the other pieces of the coalition Clinton hopes to build got a voice at the convention.

Retired Marine Corps General John Allen, who led U.S. forces in Afghanistan and coordinated the international coalition to fight the Islamic State, took to the stage before Clinton spoke accompanied by a delegation of retired military leaders and veterans who also are supporting Clinton. Allen painted the choice between Clinton and Trump as one between “unity and hope” and “a dark place of discord and fear.” “We must not and we could not stand on the sidelines,” Allen said. “With her as our commander in chief, America will continue to lead,” he said.

The father of a Muslim-American war hero who died in Iraq said Trump has "sacrificed nothing" and that if it had been up to Republican candidate, his son never would have been in a position to defend U.S. interests and fellow soldiers.

Another speaker, Doug Elmets, a Republican and former aide in the Reagan White House, said that in November he will vote for a Democrat for the first time. He called this year’s Republican platform “most alarming” and laced with views on immigrants, gays, and women that don’t represent most Americans. “I knew Ronald Reagan, I worked for Ronald Reagan,” he said. “Donald Trump, you are no Ronald Reagan.”

Clinton touched only briefly on the significance of the night for women and girls, even as her message of coalition-building and consensus-seeking reflect instincts shaped by her experiences as a woman. "We've reached a milestone in our nation's march toward a more perfect union: the first time that a major party has nominated a woman for president," she said, after a tender introduction by daughter Chelsea. "Standing here as my mother's daughter, and my daughter's mother, I'm so happy this day has come."

During the first three nights of the convention, the Democratic Party’s most popular figures -- President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden -- gave blockbuster speeches to describe the Clinton they know: the workhorse, the humanitarian, the generous colleague, the beguiling wife, the woman who is never deterred by setbacks. All three will join an army of surrogates sent out to battleground states to  target different niches of the electorate.

Their biggest task is helping Clinton overcome the mistrust of voters, which is reflected in her poll numbers. More than half the public has an unfavorable view of her. Though Trump's unfavorability numbers are higher, they are tied in most polls 101 days before the election.  

For all the efforts to reintroduce Clinton to the country, including a handful of resets during her 15-month campaign, her allies saw the convention as a chance to reshape perceptions, whether formed by Baby Boomers over the course of her almost three decades in public life or by millennials in the years since she left the State Department in 2013.

She acknowledged her shortcomings as a candidate on Thursday. "The truth is, through all these years of public service, the 'service' part has always come easier to me than the 'public' part," she said. "I get it that some people just don't know what to make of me," she added, before launching into several minutes of biography, from her mother's tough childhood to her Methodist faith to her work on behalf of children and families to her four years as President Obama's secretary of state.

As much as she sought to define herself, she also sought to separate Trump from the rest of the Republican Party, seeking converts who might be out of reach with a more traditional Republican opponent.

Trump, she suggested, has divided society and seeks to lead unilaterally. “Don't believe anyone who says, ‘I alone can fix it,’” Clinton said. “Our country's motto is 'e pluribus unum': out of many, we are one. Will we stay true to that motto?” Referencing the theme of Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign, she said Trump "has taken the Republican Party a long way, from ‘Morning in America’ to ‘Midnight in America.’”

She returned to the village metaphor again and again in her address.  

“Twenty years ago, I wrote a book called ‘It Takes a Village,’" Clinton said as she accepted the nomination, clad in a power-white suit and buoyed by chants of “Hillary! Hillary!” “A lot of people looked at the title and asked, what the heck do you mean by that?

“This is what I mean: None of us can raise a family, build a business, heal a community, or lift a country totally alone. America needs every one of us to lend our energy, our talents, our ambition to making our nation better and stronger.”

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