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Five key things to watch at Democratic National Convention

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is introduced during

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is introduced during a campaign stop Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, in Rochester, N.H. Credit: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is introduced during a campaign stop Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, in Rochester, N.H.

While the Republican convention suffered bouts of disunity and a gaffe or two, Democrats and their presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, will be looking to come off as just the opposite when they convene in Philadelphia: a competently managed organization unified behind one candidate, experts say.

Republicans saw their convention in Cleveland marred by floor protests, accusations of speech plagiarism and the refusal of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the runner-up in the primaries, to endorse GOP nominee Donald Trump. Cruz instead urged conservatives to vote “your conscience,” which led to him being booed off the stage, an extraordinary turn of events for a political convention.

Like Trump, Clinton knows some of her own party members aren’t enthusiastic about her candidacy. It’s one of the key issues she confronts in Philadelphia. But it’s not the only one. Here are five key things to watch for this week:Can Clinton unify and excite Democrats?

The former U.S. secretary of state and New York senator had a harder time clinching the Democratic nomination than was predicted. Many on the party’s left wing — supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — didn’t trust her ties to corporate America and said she didn’t represent the sweeping changes they want to see enacted.

Now, Clinton faces the task of bringing them back into the fold to support the Democratic ticket — just as they did in 2008 and 2012 for President Barack Obama. She has to find a way to woo progressives to make sure they don’t sit out the election.

“The task now is to come up with a message and unite the party,” said veteran Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “Fractured parties don’t win elections.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) predicted his party will be “far more unified than the Republican convention.”

“First of all, we’re going. Half the major Republicans aren’t even showing up at their convention,” the senator said, referring to the number of high-profile GOP leaders who skipped Cleveland. He said the party’s unity message will be centered around the “middle class.” Will going “second” allow the Democrats to contrast themselves with the GOP convention?

Historically, the party that holds its convention last has an advantage, said Tim Byrnes, a political-science professor at Colgate University.

“It’s a bit like deferring the kickoff in a football game. You get to see what the other team does first,” Byrnes said. “So in that context, the most important thing is to demonstrate fundamental competency in running a convention.”

He said Democrats have a chance to present their nominee in the “most coherent and positive way possible,” something the Republicans didn’t achieve in Cleveland because of the divisiveness.

Further, Democrats would like a smooth rollout of their vice presidential candidate. Some critics believed Trump stepped on his running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana (who was late to the announcement event), by talking mostly about himself at a news conference meant to introduce Pence.Will Sanders be a Clinton surrogate or progressive activist?

During the primaries, Sanders energized millions of Democrats with his attacks on Wall Street, corporate greed and a “rigged” campaign-finance system. He also harshly attacked Clinton at times, calling her an “establishment” politician and criticizing her for making paid speeches at big financial institutions.

When he addresses the convention, everyone will be watching to see if Sanders focuses more on his core issues or the Clinton-Trump matchup.

“Is he going to be a surrogate for Hillary or an advocate? He can’t be both,” said Susan Del Percio, a Republican strategist.

Sanders already has endorsed Clinton. But a key will be how strongly he conveys to his supporters — especially young voters — that they should mobilize to support her. That’s a factor that will become more clear in the fall, but Sanders could set the tone in Philadelphia.Will Democrats spend more time building up Clinton or attacking Trump?

The Republican convention seemed most focused on bashing Clinton — and there is a line of thinking that says that attacking the opponent is the pathway to victory in this election because both candidates have such low favorability ratings.

“If this becomes a referendum on Trump, Clinton wins. If it’s a referendum on Clinton, Trump wins,” Del Percio said.

But some counter now is not the time to spend on Trump — that will come later.

“This is not about a dialogue. It’s about monologue,” Sheinkopf said. “It’s a Democrat monologue, not a Democrat-Republican debate.”

He said this is Democrats’ best opportunity to build up Clinton. Many Dems want to highlight her qualifications — especially over Trump — and experience.With so many well-recognized speakers on the docket, will Clinton be “outshone” at her own nomination?

“The number one task is to make a fantastic speech on the last night,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. “It’s the one thing people remember after it’s all over.”

But that’s a bit tricky for the Democratic nominee, who has acknowledged that she’s not the most sparkling speaker. Further, some heavy-hitting orators will precede her during the week, including Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama.

Hillary Clinton might be helped by giving time to “ordinary” people that she helped either while as first lady, New York senator or secretary of state, Sabato said.

“She’s being painted as the ultimate establishment candidate in a year when people don’t want that,” Sabato said. Using “real” people to vouch for her could help.

Even so, Clinton will have to come through on her own in the closing speech of the convention.

A real challenge for her is to “not be outshone” at “her own convention,” Del Percio said. “She’s going to have a real challenge delivering her speech Thursday night.”

Here is the planned schedule of events for the 2016 Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the presumptive presidential nominee.

Monday, 3 p.m.

Convention opens. “United Together.” Speakers include Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and first lady Michelle Obama.

Tuesday, 4 p.m. start

“A Lifetime of Fighting for Children and Families.” Roll call of states, in which Clinton’s name is formally placed into nomination. Former President Bill Clinton is the featured speaker.

Wednesday, 4:30 p.m. start

“Working Together.” Speakers include President Barack Obama.

Thursday, 4 p.m. start

“Stronger Together.” Hillary Clinton will be introduced by her daughter, Chelsea, after which the candidate will lay out her vision for the United States.


Confirmed speakers include Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Nonpoliticians include immigration rights activist Astrid Silva (Monday); “Mothers of the Movement” (mothers of black men and women killed by gun violence or in police custody); gun violence prevention activist Eric Smegielski (Wednesday); Felicia Sanders and Polly Sheppard, survivors of the Charleston, S.C., church shootings (Wednesday).

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