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The Top Story: Did Hillary save the day?

The Top Story by Chris Graham
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The weight of the Democratic Party’s White House chances was on Hillary Clinton’s shoulders last night. In which direction will the four out of 10 Clinton supporters who are either undecided or telling pollsters that they are thinking about voting for John McCain in November go? We still don’t have an answer to that question, but if Clinton still holds any sway over her 18 million-voter flock, her de facto keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention could end up being the turning point in this election.

“When she came out, I think she was determined to let people know that we need to step up and elect Barack Obama. And I think she did that,” said Augusta County Democrat Lee Godfrey, who hosted a convention watch party at her home outside of Staunton last night, and said the response to the speech from those in attendance was overwhelmingly positive.

Augusta County Democratic Committee chair Tom Long had a similar reaction. “I think she hit all the right notes, had all the right tone, all the right enthusiasm. And I think the accent will come tonight when her husband probably does the same thing,” Long said, looking ahead to the convention speech from Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, scheduled to be the highlight of the DNC tonight.

James Madison University political-science professor Bob Roberts says the big question about the impact of the speech on Clinton supporters who have been threatening to bolt the party is still out there to be asked. “The question is, Will her more ardent supporters go along with her? She didn’t hold back at all, which some people thought she might. Republicans tried to make the argument last night that she didn’t say that he could lead. But that’s looking for something that’s not there,” Roberts said.

“The real question is, Were those Hillary supporters really Democrats? Or were they supporting her because of the fact that she would become the first woman running for president? If some of them were just supporting her for the fact that she was a woman, they may not go with her. But the vast majority of her supporters will either support Obama or just sit home,” Roberts said.

Bridgewater College political-science professor David McQuilkin agrees with the general sentiment that Clinton “did what she needed to do. “The party needs to unite. That was her first point. Her second point was, Did those of you who voted for me vote for me, or did you vote for the ideas that I represent and which the party represents? By putting it in that context, she’s telling these people, Yes, you voted for me, because I represent these ideas, but these ideas are also Democratic Party ideas, and Barack Obama represents those ideas as well,” McQuilkin said. “She said them forcefully, she said them directly, she said them from the beginning of her speech, and she peppered them throughout her speech. Unity, vote for the ideas, vote for Barack Obama, he represents us now, let us stand forth, carry forth, and now carry the election. That was her message. And that she is going to join the fight and join that movement to bring those ideas to fruition on behalf of the person who is now going to represent the party.”

The speech was effective enough to make me think that perhaps McCain will abandon his recent stratagem of courting Clinton voters by trying to play up the idea that Clinton and Obama were still at odds over divisions dating back to their nomination contest. A tepid speech from Clinton last night could have left the door wide open for the McCain camp to try to exploit the perceived division perhaps to the point where McCain would use his vice-presidential nomination to play more to the middle with a choice like former Pennsylvania governor and ardent pro-choice Republican Tom Ridge as a reach-out effort. But with Clinton solidly behind Obama now, I think we can assume that we’re not going to see McCain continue down that line, which also carries with it the risk of alienating the GOP’s conservative base.

This isn’t to say that the local Dems that I talked to today didn’t have suggestions for Clinton to hone in on her pro-Obama message. “I cannot think of anything else she could have said that makes it more clear that she’s 100 percent in Barack Obama’s corner. The only thing, maybe, would be to say, John McCain, stop running those sleazy ads with me in them,” Long said. “I wish that she had leaned across the podium and stopped and just looked across the crowd and said, Read my lips, you have got to vote for Barack Obama,” Godfrey said. “But that sentence where she said, Think about it, did you cast your vote for me, or did you cast your vote for the soldier, the mother, the little boy whose mom works for minimum wage, I thought that was a powerful statement on where she stands.”

View Hillary’s speech on YouTube …


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