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Why Hillary Clinton's Big Moment May Not Feel Historical


And I'm David Greene in Philadelphia, where the Democratic convention begins tonight. And we'll be here all week. We are broadcasting from member station WHYY, which is right near some true symbols of this country. Independence Hall is right about a block away. There's also the Liberty Bell.

And yesterday, people were gathering there, supporters of Hillary Clinton, and also supporters of Bernie Sanders. And let's listen to some of their voices. We should say, it has been hot in Philadelphia. And my colleague, Danny Hajek, asked people if it was worth boiling in the heat to take in this whole political atmosphere.

CHRISTIE GOODWIN: Absolutely. It's worth the sweat. It's worth the tears. It's worth the exhaustion.

LAURA GOODWIN: It was hotter in Texas.


C. GOODWIN: We're in Philadelphia. This is supposed to be the city of independence, the city of love. I can't think of anything more beautiful that represents Bernie Sanders and what we've been fighting for.

L. GOODWIN: We're not just out here vacationing. We're out here trying to make changes in our government.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Carla (ph) and I were there in 2008. We were Hillary delegates at the time, but we came together and supported Obama. We made history there when we picked our first black president of the United States. So we are here to make history with the first woman, and we are excited.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Yes, we're here to complete our journey.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: I think I would've been a Hillary supporter because I always was a strong Democrat until Bernie came around and pointed out all these injustices, and I thought, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: Oh, yeah, eyes are open, can't close them now.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: We are a great country. We are...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: And we want to stay a great country. And Hillary is the one that's going to bring us - keep us, keep us as...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: She definitely has the experience.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: She's qualified.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: Go Hillary (laughter)...

CARLY ERIONOUS: Go Hillary. Go Hillary.

GREENE: All right, the voices there of Christie (ph), Laura (ph), Michelle Goodwin (ph), Shirley (ph), Kelly (Ph), Priscilla Chavez (ph) and Carly Erionous (ph), who said go Hillary there at the end. I am with two people in the studio here who know political conventions very well, my colleague Don Gonyea, NPR national political correspondent, and also covered the White House with me for four years. Good to see you as always, Don...

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: I'm glad to be here. Thank you.

GREENE: ...In settings like this, especially. And also Democratic strategist, Mo Elleithee, who's executive director of Georgetown University's Institute of Politics and Public Service. And, well, you literally just walked in...

MO ELLEITHEE: Literally just walked in...

GREENE: ...I mean, is it still hot outside, even early in the morning?

ELLEITHEE: It is pouring outside right now.

GREENE: It's pouring?


GREENE: This - so that's not sweat....

ELLEITHEE: No, no, this is not sweat...

GREENE: That is actually rain water.

ELLEITHEE: Yeah, no, this is rain.

GREENE: Well, good way to start a convention with a touch of rain...

ELLEITHEE: I'm awake now.

GREENE: Let me ask you both, I mean, you listen to those voices there, both of Hillary Clinton supporters and Bernie Sanders supporters. Don, what does - what do those voices say about this party at this moment?

GONYEA: The goal of a convention like this is for the week to end and everybody is unified, and it's on to the general election. But you hear in those voices Hillary supporters grasping and so proud of the history and Bernie Sanders supporters who are not ready to let go and are very, very proud of all they've accomplished and don't necessarily see it as being done yet. But you can hear where the party is at and where it has come over the past months.

GREENE: Mo Elleithee, you have, I mean, some past experience with all this. You were a spokesman for the party leading the communications efforts at the DNC. You also worked for Hillary Clinton in 2008. I mean, what should we listen for this week as this party tries to come together and leave unified?

ELLEITHEE: Yeah. Well, first I would say, I think the party is probably more unified than maybe last week's was in Cleveland - than the Republican Party was in Cleveland. Yeah, there are obviously some very passionate Bernie Sanders supporters out there who are - want to take this to the last possible moment when Hillary Clinton accepts the nomination. But for the most part, I think you're going to see a very coalesced - a party that is very coalesced behind their nominee.

I think there's a couple of things I'm looking for. Number one, there isn't going to be the same sort of floor fight that we saw last year. I think the news about Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepping down yesterday...

GREENE: This is the DNC chairwoman...

ELLEITHEE: The DNC chair...

GREENE: ...Who opened these leaked emails that seemed - leaked emails that seemed to suggest that the party was sort of favoring Hillary Clinton...


GREENE: ...During the course of the primary process.

ELLEITHEE: Yeah, I think her decision to step down is going to remove one of the last major sort of points of contention and discomfort within the party. We'll see if something else flares up. I'm also really going to be looking for, can Hillary Clinton make the sale for herself in this convention?

GREENE: What do you mean by that?

ELLEITHEE: Last week, in Cleveland, unless you shared Donald Trump's last name or were his running mate, chances are you didn't actually make a forceful case for Donald Trump. Most of the speakers last week in Cleveland focused primarily on Hillary Clinton. That's a huge problem for a guy who's not very well-liked and trusted. Hillary has a trust problem. They need to sell her as well.

GREENE: OK. Well, you know, one of the issues that came up in those voices there is the fact that this moment in history is so important for a lot of women in this country. And our colleague, Mara Liasson, who's also here in Philadelphia, has been thinking a lot about that.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hillary Clinton will make history this week. She'll break the penultimate glass ceiling and become the first female nominee of a major American political party. And that has many women wondering why this milestone feels like not such a big deal at all. Debbie Walsh is the director of the Center for the Study of Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

DEBBIE WALSH: I find it fascinating that it is not then talked about as historic as I think it is. This is a significant moment in American history.

LIASSON: One reason is that it's been such a long time coming. Almost 100 years after women got the right to vote and after women have been heads of state and government all over the world. Great Britain just got its second female prime minister. Melanne Verveer, who was the first U.S. ambassador for global women's issues, is a long-time colleague and friend of Clinton's. She says she's looking forward to the day when having a female president is utterly ordinary.

MELANNE VERVEER: I hope that, at some point, the novelty of all of this will just go away and we will see it as something not so new, but something that is part of the expected and that a woman can do this job in a very competent way, the way Chancellor Merkel has done or Theresa May will likely do as prime minister in the U.K. and so many women are doing in other parts of the world.

LIASSON: Even before she's nominated, you could argue that Hillary Clinton has already done that. She's made the idea of a woman in power normal. Case Western Reserve political scientist Karen Beckwith.

KAREN BECKWITH: She was in the Senate. She was secretary of state, very visible in both arenas. She was first lady for eight years. So people do know her. Many people adore her. A lot of people don't like her, but she's not a big shock.

LIASSON: As soon as Clinton left the State Department and became a candidate, her approval ratings began to drop. And after the FBI director's scathing assessment of her, quote, "extremely careless handling of classified information," she's now seen as unlikable or dishonest by majorities of voters.

This week in Philadelphia, Clinton will try to fix that problem. Donald Trump's angry, divisive convention will let her draw exactly the contrast she wants. The Democrats are planning a program designed to be optimistic, realistic, uplifting, inclusive and unified. The convention also gives Clinton a chance to help voters identify with her.

Pollster Peter Hart has done lots of focus groups on Clinton. He says voters have a hard time relating to her.

PETER HART: When I asked them, what member of your family would she be? Well, very few people see her as necessarily a mother, though there are some. Very few see her as a close aunt. Many see her much more as an intimidating aunt or a mother-in-law. So there's that sort of distance between her and the voters.

LIASSON: But, says Debbie Walsh, conventions are a second chance to make a first impression, even for someone as well-known as Hillary Clinton.

WALSH: That's what conventions are about, right? This will be a time for her to redefine herself, reintroduce herself and reframe herself to the American public. But she has been someone who is kind of a fixture in American politics for good and for bad. So that's part of the challenge that she has to overcome.

LIASSON: It's almost impossible to figure out how much of Hillary Clinton's problems are because of the actions she's taken and the enemies she's made and how much is because of her gender. In this year's campaign, gender has never been very far off stage.


DONALD TRUMP: You know, she's playing the women's card. By the way, if she didn't play the women's card, she would have no chance - I mean, zero - of winning.

LIASSON: That's fine with Clinton.


HILLARY CLINTON: If fighting for women's health care and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in.


LIASSON: But there is one area of the campaign where there's complete gender equality.


TRUMP: They attack my hair. My hair - it's mine.


TRUMP: Come here. Would anybody like to inspect?


CLINTON: A lot of people have said a lot of things about my hair over the years.


CLINTON: So I do kind of know what Donald is going through.


CLINTON: And if anyone wonders if mine is real, here's the answer. The hair is real. The color isn't.

LIASSON: This week's Democratic convention will give Clinton a chance not only to show voters her real hair, but also the real her.

GREENE: All right, NPR's Mara Liasson there. I'm with Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee. Mo, I mean, how much did Hillary Clinton showcase the fact that she's a woman this week?

ELLEITHEE: I think it's going to be pretty self-evident (laughter). You know, the fact that she's going to be standing at a podium accepting the nomination of the Democratic Party, the first woman ever, I think is going to be incredibly self-evident and an incredibly powerful visual.

GREENE: Don Gonyea?

GONYEA: Famously, eight years ago, she talked about 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling. I think that message will be there whether or not she says it that explicitly. It's important, and these are voters that she does want to energize.

GREENE: All right, NPR's Don Gonyea and Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee. Thank you guys very much.

ELLEITHEE: Pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.