Sabato's Crystal Ball

Live From Denver

Daily Reports from the Democratic National Convention

Dan Keyserling, Deputy Communications Director, U.Va. Center for Politics August 25th, 2008

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Much of the commentary at the Democratic National Convention today centered not on Sen. Obama or his running mate, nor did many seem particularly concerned with the perennial themes of hope and change. Today, the watchword was unity. Specifically, party insiders and pundits spent most of the day wondering whether Sen. Hillary Clinton will, as promised, throw her support behind Obama. Of course, no one expects the Clintons to give anything but their full-throated support when they take the stage later this week. The question is: What will they do when the festivities calm down, and the country looks to the former president and first lady to campaign on behalf of the Democratic nominee. Will they rally behind the man who thwarted the renewal of the Clinton dynasty, or will they continue to offer only tepid support and reluctant praise?

If the Clintons put aside their resentment and campaign vigorously for Obama over the next few months, a united Democratic party would be a formidable opponent for John McCain. If, however, the Clintons decide to sit this one out or, even worse, to imply that Obama still isn’t ready to be president, then all McCain has to is sit and watch the Democrats divide and conquer themselves.

The perception of Democratic disunity between the Clinton family and Sen. Obama’s campaign could certainly hinder the party’s ability to emerge from the convention stronger. To avoid such a situation, party elders spent the day trying to repair relations between the two campaigns, and reminding the Clintons that if they don’t fulfill their roles as party leaders, they can sit and watch their legacy as Democratic leaders dissolve as a new generation of Democratic leaders step in to fill the void. The strong presence of the Kennedy family at today’s events reinforced that point. Kennedy’s support reminded viewers that the Clintons aren’t the only reigning family in Democratic politics. And after watching the incredibly moving and emotional tribute to Ted Kennedy tonight, the Clintons’ excessive politicking seems especially petty.

In other words, the Clintons have high expectations to meet when they address the convention later this week. Michelle Obama raised those expectations even further when she praised Hillary Clinton’s contribution to the future of women in politics. David Gergen aptly described Michelle Obama’s speech as the highlight of the evening, when she successfully and gracefully refuted anyone who accused her of elitism or half-hearted patriotism. She expressed a clear message without sounding preachy. She reinforced the hardship of her childhood without seeking pity. She testified to her stake in the election and captured the hearts of every mother and father in the room without sentimentalizing her role as a mother. Pundits rightly praised Michelle Obama’s speech, but the adorable Sasha Obama put it best when her father asked her how her mom’s speech went. “It went good.”