Washington Matters


Two Clinton Speeches Leave Much Work To Do


Denver -- Bill Clinton gets his turn at the podium tonight, and despite all the talk about his lingering resentment, he's bound to match Hillary's ringing endorsement of Barack Obama. But ironically their home-run speeches may make it even harder to bridge a still noticeable divide between Obama and Clinton supporters, especially women. Hillary's speech, for example, left many in the hall wondering, what if?

It may have been Hillary Clinton's greatest speech to date. By invoking Harriet Tubman, the women's suffrage movement, the damage she sees being done by a "third Bush term" and the good her former foe would do, she hit  all the right points with the sweet spot of the bat. It's hard to see how she could have done more.

Expect the same from her husband. Bill Clinton, whose appearances at Democratic Conventions have been a highlight since 1992, will wow the crowd -- Hillary and Obama supporters alike. Sure, he'll spend much time praising his wife's historic but just-oh-so-close campaign and probably talk longer than he should. But there won't be a hint of whatever bitterness or regret remains, even though there appears to be much. He'll slam Republican policies and Bush foreign policy with flourish and in so doing make a strong, comparative and, like Hillary, enthusiastic case for Obama. Be very surprised if more than a handful of delegates are not on their feet cheering wildly and waving Obama placards by the time he's done.

He and Hillary may, however, be creating a problem for Obama entirely out of their control. The better they do, the more they will remind their backers of what they are missing. That may be just a twinge and an ache in most cases, but for the large swath of working class voters that became Hillary's base and were always an essential  bloc to her husband, the strong feelings may make them wonder if Obama can ever be what they are looking for. After all, Hillary Clinton so often spoke directly to them and to their daily struggles and worries.

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She tried to head off such doubts with a potent challenge to her backers: Were their efforts about her or about the ideals she stood for. Any waffling Hillary supporter thinking of staying at home or voting for John McCain will have to think long and hard about that question before straying from Obama. Bill Clinton won't let them off the hook, either. He's bound to ask tonight for those weary and letdown supporters to, in essence, ask "What would Hillary do?"

Then, tomorrow, it's up to Obama. And don't let all the hand-wringing and sideline criticism fool you -- he's entirely capable of winning over those blue collar voters. It's not a guarantee and it will take more than one speech. But Obama has shown what one speech can do. And I don't mean 2004. Remember, after a flagging and lackluster campaign in Iowa late last year, Obama gave a speech to an annual Democratic dinner in that state that even had people with Hillary signs tucked under their arms chanting "Fired up!" and "Ready to go!" That turned the race around and, although no one knew it at the time, was the beginning of the Clintons' long goodbye.





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