Is anyone excited to nominate Hillary Clinton?
After watching day one of the Democratic National Convention, it didn’t seem like it: die-hard supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders — a small but vocal minority of the convention — greeted pro-Clinton speakers with boos and chants at points.
It’s not hard to see what Sanders’ appeal was — his no-frills style of populist politics clearly found broad resonance in a the progressive wing of the party, and fired up a wave of people previously unengaged in the political process.
Though Clinton received far more votes than Sanders, her supporters are often less vocal than those of the Vermont senator. But many of them are passionate about a candidate they see as a capable hard worker, and a seasoned and tough political mind.
What does the pro-Clinton Minnesota contingent — a minority in the state’s delegation — see in their candidate that some Sanders supporters, and much of the country, doesn’t get?
Studious, and progressive enough, on policy
Clinton delegates interviewed by MinnPost, without fail, mentioned that Clinton has a strong grasp on policy, and called her a legitimate progressive.
Randy Schubring, a delegate from Rochester and a government relations director at the Mayo Clinic, says he’s been passionate about Clinton since supporting her first bid for president in 2008. “I work in public policy, and I know how hard it is to move an agenda, and she is a master at really understanding how to dial into an issue,” he said, referencing her work on the Children’s Health Insurance Program as first lady. (Schubring clarified he was speaking on behalf of himself, not his employer.)
Michael Arulfo, a delegate from Bloomington who was wearing a stars-and-stripes blazer, said he has been a fan of Clinton since he was in college. “One of the things that inspired me then, and still inspires me, is her really progressive stance on health care and her progressive stance on education, particularly for early childhood care and really helping out younger children,” he said.
“If you go back to her early stages, even when she was fresh out of college, she’s always taken a progressive stance.”
Of course, if you want progressivism, Sanders had that market cornered. It may not be a political revolution, but what gets Clinton’s supporters going is that they believe she has the personal qualities to put those policies into action.
According to Chris Dolan, a delegate from Maple Grove, “what Hillary offers is a temperament, working across the aisle to get these things done. It’s one thing to be for universal health care, it’s another to have 30 years of experience on health care issues to set a leadership path to get that done.”
“What she provides for us is an experienced, seasoned hand, who’s really policy focused,” Dolan said. “We live in a very complicated time and we need someone with experience to move our country forward.”
Javier Morillo, president of the Minnesota SEIU, a DNC committee member and superdelegate, said that the fact that Clinton knows how to get things done is exciting.
“In Clinton, what we get is something different than what we had with Obama,” he said, saying that Obama wasn’t an effective bargainer with congressional Republicans.
“He just never really mastered the art of that. This is where the almost 30 years of pounding she’s gotten from [Republicans], it’s something Democrats should actually look forward to because she knows how to deal with this.”
‘It’s kind of like a relationship’
While they emphasized Clinton’s positive attributes, many of even her most die-hard supporters were clear-eyed as to her flaws. She is not a gifted campaigner, lacking the personal touch of her husband, the rhetorical gifts of President Obama, or the populist appeal of Sanders.
The irony for some supporters was, to them, that Clinton is well-equipped to govern, but not particularly in possession of political skills needed to get into office.
“She’s not Bernie Sanders, and I think it’s an unfair comparison,” Arulfo said. “It’s a function of her personality. Her strengths are in her intellectual ability to really thoughtfully think through issues and come up with solutions that are practical and directionally very progressive. She’s not Bill Clinton, she’s not Bernie Sanders. She has other strengths.”
When asked about Clinton’s poll numbers — which, for some, are too close to Trump for comfort — and her high unfavorability ratings, supporters blamed the right.
“Hillary has been bombarded for 20 years, and she’s not the shiny new object, she hasn’t been the shiny new object since 1992,” Schubring said. “And so you have a shiny new object in 2008, Barack Obama, and he really was a master as well. This year’s shiny new object was Bernie Sanders. So she doesn’t get that kind of pass that people have when they first meet someone.”
“It’s kind of like a relationship,” he added.
Dolan added, “She’s been the victim more than any other political candidate, of this decades-long attack from the right and I think even people on the left have bought into some of those things,” she said.
According to Morillo, there is passion on the Clinton side — it’s just been more low-key than that on the Sanders side.
“There is a lot of excitement that is not as palpable because there’s a lot of noise going on in this political cycle,” he said. Morillo, who is vocal on Twitter for Clinton and has pushed back against Sanders supporters during the primaries, said the angry online blowback from that camp makes Clinton backers less likely to be vocal.
What it comes back to: Trump, and history
By talking about policy and personality, Minnesota delegates offered a preview of how Democrats will make a case for Clinton that relies less on a fear of Trump and more on the candidate.
To win over reluctant Sanders supporters, Clinton backers say that she will need to emphasize how she’s moved to the left on some key issues, like trade, and play up her personal side, even though some progressives find Clinton disingenuous both personally and on policy.
Arulfo said she’ll succeed “if she continues to maintain a progressive stance, and even get more progressive, and encourage people to share stories about herself.”
Ultimately, the specter of a Trump presidency may be their best weapon. To longtime Clinton supporters in the delegation, the contrast between the two could not be more stark.
“He’s talking about building walls, she’s talking about building bridges,” said Ellen Luger, a delegate from Minneapolis. “She’s talking about hope and working together. She has deep capabilities he doesn’t have. It’s a very clear choice.”
And there’s one last weapon — the fact that in Clinton, Americans have the chance to elect a woman as president for the first time.
That, more than anything else, animated many of Clinton’s most ardent Minnesota supporters.
“It is a huge, huge deal that we are about to nominate the first woman as a major party candidate,” Morillo said. “I’ve heard a lot of younger folks, especially millennials, who are certain that there will be a woman president, and I think someone my age, I don’t think there’s any certainty about that at all.”
“For me,” Dolan said, “the most visceral reason why Hillary would make such an amazing president — I’m the father of an 8-year-old daughter, and Hillary represents just what’s possible for a woman today.”