PHILADELPHIA– Democrats on Tuesday made Hillary Clinton the first woman to head a major party ticket — and during an emotional night, her family and supporters asked voters to give her a second look.
At the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, just three miles from Independence Hall where the nation was born, a sense of history is palpable — as is Clinton’s willingness to finally enjoy it.
“What an incredible honor that you have given me, and I can’t believe we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet,” Clinton said via satellite after a video montage showed the faces of all 44 male presidents before shattering like glass to reveal Clinton waiting to address the convention from New York.
“This is really your victory. This is really your night,” Clinton told the cheering crowd. “And if there are any little girls out there who stayed up late to watch, let me just say I may become the first woman President. But one of you is next.”
The Clinton campaign hoped the day would build momentum and goodwill to repair the deep divides that still linger after her bitter primary duel with Bernie Sanders. The goal is to reshape national perceptions of a candidate with negative approval ratings and who was lambasted last week at the Republican National Convention as a criminal and liar.
Former President Bill Clinton weaved a parable of Clinton’s work for children, the sick and the disabled into the story of their relationship. More than two decades after Hillary Clinton became a fixture in national politics, Bill Clinton’s folksy, sometimes meandering testimony was aimed at revealing a softer side of the Democratic nominee to a nationwide television audience.
‘Best darned change-maker’
The 42nd President hailed his wife as “the best darned change-maker I have ever known” as he sought to debunk Republican nominee Donald Trump’s claim that Clinton is the epitome of the status quo. Bill Clinton framed the election as a choice between the flattering picture he painted of his wife and the damning portrait the GOP laid out in Cleveland last week.
“One is real, the other is made up. You just have to decide which is which, my fellow Americans,” Clinton said. “Earlier today, you nominated the real one.”
Hillary Clinton’s historic status was confirmed earlier in a roll call vote of the states — one of the great traditions of American politics.
Rebecca Wininger, 49, a Clinton delegate from Arizona, had tears streaming down her face as the convention floor erupted with applause when Clinton formally went over the top and secured the necessary delegates to become the nominee.
“We made history today by nominating the first woman for president. To be part of that moment was inspiring, overwhelming,” Wininger said.
Nancy Pelosi, a history maker in her own right after becoming the highest-ranking woman in the history of the US government when she was elected House speaker in 2007, was also overcome.
“It’s beyond thrilling. It’s very exciting and to see at the end she’s the nominee. It’s going to be spectacular,” Pelosi told CNN’s Dana Bash.
But there was also a bittersweet feeling about the night.
For Sanders supporters, it was a moment of loss as well as pride in a well-run campaign. Sanders stood on the floor to officially proclaim his former rival the party nominee.
“I move that Hillary Clinton be selected as the nominee of the Democratic Party for President of the United States,” Sanders said.
Often a gruff figure on the campaign trail, Sanders also showed unusual signs of sentiment. In one of the night’s most moving moments, his brother, Larry, who lives in England, rose to deliver the votes of the Democrats Abroad movement to his sibling and remembered their parents.
“They did not have easy lives and they died young,” said Larry Sanders. “They would be immensely proud of their son’s accomplishments,” said Sanders, who was also choking back tears as the crowd gave him a rousing ovation.
As soon as the Clinton nomination was made official, a group of Sanders supporters staged a walk out from the convention hall chanting “this is what democracy looks like.”
Against that backdrop, Democrats had a tricky political assignment Tuesday night. They had to give full recognition to Clinton’s moment but also pay due respect to her rival whose supporters are loath to give up the fight.
The campaign also faces an urgent need to sketch a new image of Clinton in the nation’s consciousness. For all the credit she got for being a trailblazer, she’s often a polarizing figure whose frequent political highs have been tempered by self-inflicted political disasters, including the debacle over her private email server.
Tough fight ahead
And as Trump basks in his own post-convention bounce, Democrats are becoming increasingly skittish about a presidential race in which Clinton is still the favorite, but appears to be facing a tough fight.
So, almost as soon as a roll call vote of the states had wrapped up, speaker after speaker arrived on the stage in Philadelphia to attest to Clinton’s character and sense of mission.
Mothers of African-American sons killed by law enforcement and gun violence took the stage in a heart-rending call for social and firearms reform. They spoke of how Clinton had embraced their cause, as cries of “Black Lives Matter” rang out from the audience.
“I am an unwilling participant in this movement,” said Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, as she spoke for other members of “Mothers of the Movement.”
“Hillary Clinton has the compassion to comfort a grieving mother,” Fulton said. “She has the courage to lead the fight for common sense gun legislation.”
Civil rights icon John Lewis hailed Clinton as a “leader who can unite us as a nation, a leader who can break down barriers.”
Clinton was hailed as a heroine of 9/11 by first responders and survivors during her time as a New York senator.
“She visited, called, and checked in for years, because she cared. When I needed her, she was there,” said Lauren Manning, a 9/11 survivor.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean praised Clinton as a tireless fighter for progressive causes. He recalled her effort to reform health care during her husband’s administration, which ultimately failed even as she persevered in the battle for children’s health insurance.
“She fought the way she always did. She did her homework. She persevered.
She never forgot who she was fighting for,” the former DNC chief said, ending his speech with a joyful reprise of his 2004 “Dean Scream.”
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright argued that Clinton had the character, steel and principles to be President, and argued that Trump had already damaged the nation by the way he has run for the office.
“He has weakened our standing in the world by threatening to walk away from our friends and our allies,” Albright said, and slammed what she said was the GOP nominee’s “strange fascination” with dictators.
But it was Bill Clinton’s address for which the night will be remembered. The speech was tender, admiring and laced with the political savvy that characterized the career of the man President Barack Obama called the “Explainer in Chief,” thanks to his role in his 2012 re-election bid.
But critics will likely complain Clinton’s address skipped over the many controversies of his own career and their lives together — including his impeachment over an affair with a White House intern and the Clintons’ consistent problems in overcoming perceptions that they sometimes cut ethical corners and abhor transparency.
Still, the former president pleaded with voters to recognize that his wife is the best person to keep Americans safe and prosperous.
“I hope you will do it. I hope you will elect her,” he said. “Your children and grandchildren will bless you forever if you do.”