Chris Pumpelly of Wichita couldn’t have uttered words any sweeter to Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.
There Pumpelly stood Thursday morning in a downtown hotel surveying the effect of the four-day Democratic National Convention. And Pumpelly, a Bernie Sanders delegate, was more than just a little pleased.
“People are coming together. Bernie delegates are recognizing that Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine are the nominees of our party, and we’re going to work just as hard to support them,” he said.
There you go. A week that began with the resignation of the Democratic National Committee chairwoman and discord and uncertainly over party unity came to a close with most Sanders supporters embracing the ticket.
“I couldn’t have been more happy,” Pumpelly said of the convention.
Clinton herself might have boosted her cause with a Thursday night acceptance speech that made her most prominent pitch to date why she should be president.
“America is once again at a moment of reckoning,” she said. “Powerful forces are threatening to pull us apart. Bonds of trust and respect are fraying. And just as with our founders, there are no guarantees. It truly is up to us. We have to decide whether we’re going to work together so we can all rise together.”
Notably, her address went largely unmarred by catcalls and demonstrations that might have dented the week’s narrative. At times, chants of “Hill-a-ry” rose to drown out protests from holdout Sanders supporters. But it wasn’t enough to overwhelm her speech or its storyline.
Polls next week will indicate in a more scientific way just how successful this confab was. But Democrats in Philadelphia were every bit as confident as Republicans in Cleveland that they had succeeded, although the presidential race remains close.
For his part, Donald Trump broke an unwritten rule by making major news during a nominating convention for the opposing party with his controversial call for Russia to unleash a cyber hack to unearth Clinton’s deleted emails.
On Thursday, he insisted that “of course” he was being sarcastic, though that move didn’t slow an onslaught from Democrats whosaid he was unfit to be president.
As the week unfolded in Philadelphia, Sanders delegates expressed serious misgivings about Clinton. But a weeklong all-star lineup of nightly speakers combined with an ongoing procession of pro-Clinton party leaders appeared to transform them — or simply wear them out. Those party leaders met with the Sanders crowd publicly and privately, and it was unrelenting.
Take Sen. Claire McCaskill, who walked up to the Missouri delegation podium on the convention’s first morning and turned immediately to Sanders delegates grouped on one side of the room.
“We are really glad to have you here,” she said. “We welcome you to Philadelphia. We will do our very best at this convention to reflect the values you care so deeply about.”
She later met privately with them and said she never expected Sanders delegates to immediately embrace Clinton when they arrived in Philadelphia. That, she said, was unrealistic.
“I found when I sat down and visited with them that this is a reasonable group of people, and they just care deeply,” McCaskill said. “And, by the way, what a great thing for us. I hope they stay involved. We need that kind of energy in our party.”
Meantime, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City, a longtime Clinton backer, addressed state delegates on Tuesday and talked of the importance of compromise in politics. His message was unmistakable.
Many credited first lady Michelle Obama’s prime-time speech Monday for turning the page on party unity with her emphasis on the importance of presidential temperament and the need to break glass ceilings.
“I want someone who understands that the issues the president faces are not black and white and cannot be boiled down to 140 characters,” she intoned.
But she was only among the first of an impressive series of speakers. The roster included the current president, a former president, Sanders himself, the vice president and the vice-presidential nominee. Also joining in were A-list Hollywood stars Angela Bassett and Meryl Streep.
“The more speakers we had and the longer the convention went, the more unified we were,” said Kerry Gooch, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party.
The Republican lineup, meantime, was heavy on Trump children and longtime friends and employees. That was by necessity because so many party leaders had bailed. And unlike Sanders, Ted Cruz pointedly declined to endorse the GOP nominee.
The week, though, hardly solved all of Clinton’s challenges. Clinton fatigue remains an issue. Her inability to excite audiences is concerning. Questions about trustworthiness linger, although speakers worked overtime to emphasize Clinton’s life-long commitment to children’s issues and women’s rights.
Any politician in the public eye as long as Clinton is going to stumble, they said.
“She knows that sometimes during those 40 years (in public life) she’s made mistakes — just like I have, just like we all do,” President Barack Obama said Wednesday night. “That’s what happens when we try.”
Democrats also opted not to emphasize national and domestic security as much as some expected, given Trump’s declaration that he is the “law and order candidate.”
Finally, there’s the question of change and whether Democrats managed to convince the nation that four more years of Democratic rule are needed after eight of Obama. Given recent history, that’s a formidable challenge. Only once in six decades has the party of a two-term president seen its next nominee elevated to the White House.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll out this month showed that 56 percent of those surveyed said the next president needed to make major changes to government — seemingly an edge for Trump. A smaller group, 41 percent, said they preferred someone with a steady approach — and perhaps more inclined toward Clinton.
But Democrats here said Clinton’s agenda of free college tuition for poor and middle-class families, immigration reform, bank regulation and, possibly, tax reform answer that call.
“Unlike the other side, we’re laying out specific benchmarks, specific things that we want to get done,” Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said. “We’re not just bloviating about what’s wrong.”
Pumpelly said he, too, is confident that Clinton can bring change. He described the Democratic platform as the most progressive in party history.
“We’re going to keep moving forward,” he said. “We’re going to make certain that Secretary Clinton and Sen. Kaine keep their promises to us.
“I’m certain they’re going to do that. But we need to keep pushing forward and coming together as Democrats.”