Hillary delivers, but it all could have been avoided

After intense and non-stop media speculation, Sen. Hillary Clinton Tuesday night gave a Democratic National Convention speech that was no surprise at all.

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Sen. Hillary Clinton in Denver. (Democratic National Convention Committee)

After intense and non-stop media speculation, Sen. Hillary Clinton Tuesday night gave a Democratic National Convention speech that was no surprise at all.

After intense and non-stop media speculation, Sen. Hillary Clinton Tuesday night gave a Democratic National Convention speech that was no surprise at all.

It was the speech of Hillary's life, delivered with force, effectiveness, and wit. It touched all the proper bases, asked Democrats to support the Obama-Biden ticket, hit Sen. John McCain respectfully but hard, and in particular stressed the health-care and women's issues that have been her signature.

Hillary Clinton has an important future. But if her career were to end today, the video of her speech, witnessed and applauded by her admiring husband and daughter, would go a long way toward validating what she has done in politics.

Now, back to the practical aspects of the Clinton speech and, for that matter, President Bill Clinton's looming speech, as well.

Fact is, had the 2008 Clinton campaign been managed more efficiently and professionally, Hillary Clinton rather than Sen. Barack Obama would have won the nomination. By taking caucus and convention states for granted, and ceding them to Obama, Clinton made a dreadful strategic mistake. Her managers believed victories in a few big-state primaries would build sufficient momentum toward her early nomination. They miscalculated.

Obama's post-primary conduct toward Clinton was somewhat surprising. It was clear that he did not want her to be his vice-presidential running mate. Yet I expected that Obama would give Clinton the courtesy of listing her name publicly as a real possibility and that he would confer with her about other possible running mates and fall campaign strategy. Such public courtesies go a long way in politics.

Obama's failure to do this — something which could be done at no cost to himself — helped create a several-week period of tension with the Clintons. It resulted in his having to give the Clintons public convention roles rivaling those of himself and Joe Biden. It also resulted in a reluctance by many key Clinton supporters to jump aboard the Obama bandwagon. As of last weekend, depending on the surveys you read, between 20 percent and 30 percent of Hillary Clinton supporters were considering a McCain vote in the fall.

There is no substantive reason for this. Obama and Clinton began their nominating contests somewhat apart on Iraq and on health-care reform, although far closer to each other than to McCain. By the end of the period, each had moved part-way toward the other. There is a good case to be made that the Democratic platform plank on health care, in fact, is more Clinton than Obama. There were no major differences between them on any important issue.

Hillary's Tuesday speech will help bring these votes home for Obama. It seems unthinkable to me, in any case, that such a high percentage of Clinton voters would in the end cast Republican votes. All things taken together, I would expect that in the end maybe 5 percent, tops, of such voters would end up with McCain. Two or three percent might be a better guess.

The Clintons, for their part, took their time in coming to terms with Obama's nomination. There were media leaks about small dissatisfactions and reports that Hillary and President Clinton were laying down demands for convention TV exposure and time.

The Democratic convention is now halfway over. The spirit in the hall was markedly more buoyant than 24 hours earlier. It should continue that way until Obama's stadium speech Thursday night.

GOP Footnote: It is normal for the opposition party to send "truth squads" to the other party's convention. But Republicans this year have sent two high-powered spokespersons, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to Denver for sitdown interviews with media. They also have run effective McCain TV spots during convention programming. We shall see, at the end of the week, if this strategy will result in containing the usual 5-to-10-point "bounce" in the polls that a party convention usually gives to its ticket. Whether it does or not, McCain will attempt to blunt it immediately by naming his own running mate on Friday, in advance of next week's Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.