Three Challenges for Hillary Clinton’s Campaign During the Democratic Convention

A worker vacuums the stage before the Democratic National Convention opens at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on July 25.

Kalee Kreider is a government affairs consultant and former communications director for Al Gore. She is on Twitter: @KaleeKreider.

This week in Philadelphia, Democrats are aiming to be the dawn after the dark. Hillary Clinton’s campaign put on a clean vice presidential announcement; now her team aims to introduce Sen. Tim Kaine to voters: highlighting his likeability, his credentials (former mayor of Richmond, governor of Virginia, party chairman and U.S. senator), his faith, his fluency in Spanish–and how all of that would translate to competency as vice president. Mr. Kaine says he is boring, but many Americans find comfort in the familiar. Mrs. Clinton needs to build on his strengths.

Democrats are aiming for a convention that highlights and unifies all facets of the party and presents a strong contrast to the divisions on display during the Republican convention; they want to be the party inviting everyone under their big tent. This involves highlighting the party platform, high-level speakers, and strong party turnout. Mrs. Clinton can energize the base by highlighting voices and officials who excited voters during the primaries: Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker as well as Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, and Joaquin and Julian Castro. This also helps set them up for future leadership roles.

To contrast with the Republican no-shows in Cleveland last week, Democrats needs to showcase their elected leaders (present and past), celebrity talent, and diversity. The leaked e-mails and party leadership shakeup over the weekend were distracting from the message the Clinton team wants to emphasize; pressing forward with a low-drama transition will help get things back on course.

The other goal for the Democratic convention is to present a vision. This is the moment for Mrs. Clinton to tee up the strongest possible contrast to Donald Trump. The Philadelphia convention should be about voters, not about her; about a positive vision of the future, not an apocalyptic vision of the present; about an inclusive path forward, not a divisive throwback to generations past.

Sen. Tim Kaine on stage with Hillary Clinton during a campaign event in Miami on July 23.

Dan Schnur is director of the University of Southern California’s Unruh Institute of Politics and was communications director for John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign. He is on Twitter: @DanSchnur.

Like a football team nursing a small but stable lead late in the game, Hillary Clinton is in ball-control mode. Tim Kaine is the ultimate three-yards-and-a cloud-of-dust running mate: no Hail Mary bombs (or even short screen passes) for a candidate who seems confident that as long as she avoids any significant mistakes, the election is hers to lose.

That said, while Mrs. Clinton has the luxury of running against the most unpopular presidential nominee in the history of modern polling, her campaign knows she is the second-most unpopular presidential nominee in modern history. They have spent the weekend dealing with the resignation of Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the tepid response from progressive heroes Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to Mr. Kaine’s selection, and raucous protests against her nomination by large numbers of Sanders supporters. They know there is still much work to be done. Here are three things that Mrs. Clinton must accomplish this week:

1. Build trust. This is Hillary Clinton’s most difficult challenge: Alarmingly large numbers of voters simply doubt her honesty. As she has  acknowledged, it’s difficult to simply claim trustworthiness: You have to demonstrate it. Her convention speech would benefit from examples of how she has won over doubters in the past, but ultimately she will make progress on this front only with testimonials from others.

This is probably a bridge too far for Mr. Sanders: Endorsing Mrs. Clinton is one thing; bearing witness to her personal character is less likely. Bill Clinton, the most valuable surrogate on the planet on most matters (see point No. 2 below), lacks credibility on this one. Barack Obama and Chelsea Clinton will have to carry the load on the trust-and-honesty front, supported by a steady stream of second- and third-tier surrogates talking about how they came to trust her over the years.

2. Optimism. For all the controversy and fear-mongering that marred the Republican convention, Donald Trump laid a trap that President Obama fell right into. In an effort to dispel the apocalyptic version of America that Mr. Trump warned of in his acceptance speech, Mr. Obama tried to make the case that life in this country isn’t nearly as bad as all that. “I hope people the next morning walked outside and birds were chirping and the sun was out,” he said Friday.

But for many Americans, the sun is not shining. The problem with emphasizing the light at the end of the tunnel is that for people who are still stuck in the darkness, those talking about the light can sound somewhat out of touch. Bill Clinton’s oratorical talents are well-suited to walking this fine line between being an optimist and an ingénue: Hillary Clinton is less skilled but will have to walk that same line in her acceptance speech.

3. Ball control. Tim Kaine’s job from here on in is simply to not mess up. Don’t get drunk in front of donors, don’t tell any jokes that could conceivably offend any marginalized or victimized voter group, and pretend that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a menace to the United States. Do that, and Donald Trump will take care of the rest…

A worker adjusts the sign for the New York delegation on the floor amid preparations for the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Mary Beth Cahill managed Sen. John Kerry‘s presidential campaign in 2004 and was chief of staff to Sen. Edward Kennedy.

1. “Believe me” is not a policy. The Republican National Convention was heavy on rhetoric but light on policy. The Democratic convention is the time for the Clinton campaign to explain to voters what Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine would do in office–in particular that they have an economic plan to address the sentiment that the American dream is no longer accessible to all, especially those who don’t have a college degree.

2. Tim Kaine is a U.S. senator, former governor and former Democratic National Committee chair but is still largely unknown to many voters. This is the moment to introduce the senator as a solid choice who would be ready on Day One to lead the country and would be a strong partner to Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Kaine has been a solid vote-getter in a swing state while holding solidly progressive views. Many of his positions are informed by his strong faith. He is likely to appeal to many churchgoers, especially Catholics, and his concentration on South and Central America during his time on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will help as the ticket reaches out to Latino voters.

3. Much has been written about Democratic divisions over the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The convention is an opportunity to present a believable case that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Kaine have heard the anguish working Americans experience in the face of trade deals that hollow out our manufacturing base and leave no viable employment opportunities for hundreds of thousands of citizens.

Hundreds of environmentalists and Bernie Sanders supporters march through downtown Philadelphia on July 24, a day before the start of the Democratic National Convention.

John Feehery is president of QGA Public Affairs and a former spokesman for then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert. He is on Twitter: @JohnFeehery.

Democrats are heading into their convention confident that they have the election in the bag as Republicans are still fundamentally, and visibly, divided over their presidential nominee and the future of their party.

Hillary Clinton showed how confident she is in her prospects by selecting Tim Kaine, a milquetoast centrist who will do little to inspire any wing of the Democratic Party. The Virginia senator and former governor is the pick of a candidate who doesn’t want to rock the boat.

Playing not to lose is different than playing to win. Here are three challenges for the Clinton campaign this week in the City of Brotherly Love:

Frame the narrative. The Democratic National Committee has been in the headlines over leaked emails that show party infighting and officials’ criticism of Sen. Bernie Sanders. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is resigning over the mess. This is not the sort of attention that the Clinton campaign wants, whether for the potential to stir up Sanders supporters or to distract from the rollout of the Clinton-Kaine ticket. Getting the storyline back on course is going to be a challenge.

Present a message. Hillary Clinton has to do better than “I’m with her.” Addressing a nation increasingly anxious about safety and security, Donald Trump told Republicans that he is the law-and-order candidate. How does Hillary Clinton respond to that? Voters on both sides of the aisle seem increasingly disgusted with the status quo. Mr. Trump has seized the mantle of the change candidate and is firing directly at the political establishment. Does Mrs. Clinton double down on being the candidate of continuity? She embodies the establishment–the question is whether she will run from that or embrace it.

Excite the base. For decades, Democrats have had three distinct constituencies: African-Americans, Hispanics, and white working-class union voters. Mrs. Clinton has tried to please all three with discrete messages: She has embraced the Black Lives Matter movement; she has pledged not to deport illegal immigrants who aren’t violent criminals; and, to appeal to union voters, she has come out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and pushed for a higher minimum wage. But these discrete messages don’t necessarily work for the other groups. Only about four in 10 Americans support the Black Lives Matter movementMany Americans favor some sort of path to legal citizenship but not outright amnesty for those here illegally. A higher minimum wage could hurt the job prospects of poor blacks and Hispanics. And the backdrop to these conflicting messages is a fundamentally boring Clinton-Kaine ticket. About the only way Hillary Clinton could excite the Democratic base is to run an extremely hard-hitting negative campaign against Donald Trump. Those kinds of negative campaigns tend to suppress turnout, which could be a threat to Mrs. Clinton on Election Day and runs counter to the typical Democratic strategy of inspiring higher turnout.


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