Our Political Pros Give Democrats High First-Night Marks
Two of America's smartest political strategists are analyzing the Democratic National Convention this week for Bloomberg View, giving their perspectives on how the proceedings are coming across to millions of viewers and voters. They are Vin Weber, a Republican lobbyist, consultant and former Minnesota congressman who has advised presidential contenders Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney and, this year, Jeb Bush; and John Sasso, a longtime Democratic adviser who was the leading strategist for the presidential campaigns of Michael Dukakis in 1988 and John Kerry in 2004.
Sasso and Weber credited the Democrats with overcoming threats of an ideological rupture on the opening day of their national convention in Philadelphia on Monday with a compelling prime-time show championing Hillary Clinton at the expense of Republican Donald Trump. The consensus star of the night was Michelle Obama.
"It was a great hour and a half, making an overall good impression," said Sasso, a Democrat.
"They got off to a pretty good start and overcame the typical stuff we see at most conventions," noted Weber, a Republican.
Both said they thought Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren appealed mainly to the left wing of the party rather than to voters across the political spectrum.
Both were blown away by the First Lady.
"Michelle was the star of the evening," said Sasso. "She took the standing she has and attached it to Hillary."
Weber was equally effusive. "She was the high point," he said. "She reminded us of everyone's hopes for the Obama presidency."
Weber said that "Bernie's speech was about his cause," though the Vermont senator did give Clinton a full-throated endorsement. He said Warren's acid assessment of Trump and her unapologetic anti-corporate populism reminded him "of how smart Hillary was not to pick her for vice president." But, the Republican strategist noted, "She'll be a good surrogate in the general election for Democratic constituencies."
Sasso was more positive. "Bernie did what he needed to do" for Clinton, he said. "He was smart to emphasize as much the affirmative case for her as the negative one against Trump." Warren, he thought, made a "very effective indictment" of the Republican nominee.
The Sanders and Warren speeches took on added importance as Democrats, expecting a harmonious gathering that would stand in contrast to the Republicans' tumultuous convention last week in Cleveland, were rocked by leaked documents from the Democratic National Committee. They showed how party leaders tried to stack the primary fight in Clinton's favor. This confirmed what Sanders had long charged and infuriated his followers at the convention, forcing Clinton to dump the party chair, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida. Evidence pointing to Russian hackers as the source of the stolen documents added an element of intrigue complete with charges of a Kremlin conspiracy to help Trump.
The Democrats' tension was palpable on the convention floor. Angry Sanders supporters in the California delegation were encouraging their colleagues to boo the Vermont Senator when he spoke. Calm was at least partially restored by a medley of comedians including Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, a Clinton backer, and Sarah Silverman, a Sanders supporter, who joked and bonded before Paul Simon sang "Bridge Over Troubled Waters."
"We can take one night like this," said Bill Daley, a veteran Illinois Democratic strategist and former White House chief of staff under President Barack Obama. "Three nights would be real trouble."
But Weber and Sasso agreed that the controversies of the opening day were unlikely to have lasting consequences. Both said the Democrats did a better job than Republicans did a week earlier of balancing positive statements of their candidate's virtues against negative attacks on the opposition.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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