PHILADELPHIA — President Obama bequeathed his hope-and-change coalition to Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, saying the woman who was once his opponent, then his top diplomat, and now his best hope for a lasting legacy is better qualified than any other candidate in history to occupy the White House.
Moments after Mr. Obama asked his supporters to “carry her the same way you carried me,” Mrs. Clinton came to the stage with him, sharing a hug and accepting the baton Mr. Obama said he was passing to her as he stepped into history as a private citizen.
But not before he leveled some of his fiercest attacks yet at her GOP opponent Donald Trump. accusing him of trying to “rule” Americans like a king, mocking his plans to enforce immigration laws and build a border wall, and saying America’s greatness “does not depend on Donald Trump.”
And he begged Democrats to overlook some of their differences with Mrs. Clinton, saying she’s made mistakes but she’s at least been “in the arena” fighting for liberal principles.
“If you’re serious about our democracy, you can’t afford to stay home just because she might not align with you on every issue. You’ve got to get in the arena with her, because democracy isn’t a spectator sport,” he said.
Democrats’ convention kicked off its third day by officially nominating Sen. Tim Kaine to be vice president, heard from Vice President Joseph R. Biden, and featured the family of victims of gun crimes, who pleaded for help from Washington.
But it was Mr. Obama who made the most powerful case of the night, saying he knows what the Oval Office requires of those who win it — and said Mrs. Clinton, with her years of experience on the inside in Washington, is ready to take on the challenges.
“Even in the middle of crisis, she listens to people, and keeps her cool, and treats everybody with respect,” Mr. Obama said. “No matter how daunting the odds; no matter how much people try to knock her down, she never, ever quits. That’s the Hillary I’ve come to admire. And that’s why I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president.”
The president is relying on Mrs. Clinton to continue the legacy he built over the last eight years, but the coalition that powered him to two victories — including his 2008 defeat of Mrs. Clinton — is fraying, and anxious voters are turning to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
At his convention last week Mr. Trump portrayed a country reeling from crime, losing its way on the international stage, failing to meet the threat from terrorists and struggling to emerge from the economic doldrums that have lasted for Mr. Obama’s entire tenure.
Mr. Obama sought to calm those fears.
“Sure, we have real anxieties — about paying the bills, protecting our kids, caring for a sick parent,” Mr. Obama said. “We get frustrated with political gridlock, worry about racial divisions; are shocked and saddened by the madness of Orlando or Nice. There are pockets of America that never recovered from factory closures; men who took pride in hard work and providing for their families who now feel forgotten.”
Many in the arena were overtaken by emotion at the sight of the president. A black woman from New York began to cry as Mr. Obama took the stage and greeted the crowd.
“Yes we can!” she called out between sobs.
Still, divisions even among Democrats burst through at the convention.
At one point, when former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke, some in the crowd broke into chants of “No more war!” The convention shut out the lights on the Washington and Oregon delegations to make it tougher for cameras to capture the protest.
While most Democrats at the convention are firmly behind Mrs. Clinton, an insurgent group that backed Sen. Bernard Sanders during the primary has fought party leaders at every turn.
They even tried to offer an alternate candidate to Mr. Kaine for the vice presidential spot, but said Democratic National Committee officials refused to turn over the paperwork to file their nomination.
Mr. Kaine, a former governor and now first-term senator from Virginia, is relatively unknown on the national stage.
He sought to change that Wednesday, recounting his year as a Catholic missionary in Honduras, his marriage to the daughter of a former Republican Virginia governor, his son’s deployment this week as a Marine, and his time in the Senate.
He insisted that a number of his Republican colleagues secretly tell him they think Mrs. Clinton, during her own time in the Senate, was “fantastic.”
He broke into a little bit of Spanish, in which he is fluent, saying the values of Hispanics in the U.S. are American values.
Mr. Kaine sought to assuage the fears of Sanders supporters who view him as too conservative on abortion and trade — he supported fast-track trade negotiating powers in the Senate last year. Even as he spoke, sporadic chants of “No TPP” — a reference to the Trans Pacific Partnership — burst out throughout the crowd.
“We all should feel the Bern,” Mr. Kaine said, saying he served with Mr. Sanders on the Senate Budget Committee. Mr. Sanders, who didn’t even mention Mr. Kaine during his own convention speech Monday, sat grim-faced during the shout-out.
Mr. Kaine slipped easily into the traditional attack-dog role of the vice presidential nominee, saying Mr. Trump can’t be trusted.
“Here’s a little tip for you: when you want to know about the character of someone in public life, look to see they they have a passion,” he said. “Hillary has a passion for kids and families. Donald Trump has a passion too: It’s himself.”
Amid the political heavyweights of the Democratic Party, the night’s most emotional moments came from the family of victims of mass shootings from Orlando, Charleston and Sandy Hook Elementary School.
They took to the stage to plead for bans on some firearms, which they blamed for enabling deranged men to kill so many.
“I’m here alone without my mother, while too many politicians cower behind the gun lobby, instead of standing for American families,” said Erica Smegielski, whose mother Dawn was principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School. “What we need is to elect Hillary Clinton.”
Also taking the stage was former Rep. Gabby Giffords, an Arizona Democrat who was severely wounded when a gunman shot up an outdoor town hall she was holding in Tucson in 2011. She’s since become a major gun-control advocate.
“Hillary is tough. Hillary is courageous. She will fight to make our families safer. In the WH, she will stand up to the gun lobby. That’s why I’m voting for Hillary,” Ms. Giffords said.
Minutes later, several dozen Broadway and Hollywood entertainers took to the stage to lead the crowd in singing “What the world needs now is love,” followed by chants of “Love trumps hate” — a mantra for the convention.
For his part, Mr. Trump managed to steal some of the oxygen from Mrs. Clinton’s convention, holding a press conference Wednesday morning to demand reporters prod the Democratic nominee to face the press. Mrs. Clinton hasn’t held a press conference yet this year.
“Just ask yourself why she doesn’t have news conferences. And honestly, the reason is because there’s no way she can answer questions because the job she has done is so bad,” Mr. Trump said.
The billionaire businessman also criticized Democrats for not giving enough attention at their convention to the threat from terrorism and the Islamic State, known by the acronym ISIS.
On Wednesday, Mr. Panetta delved deeply into terrorism, saying Mrs. Clinton was part of the team that fought to “bring Osama bin Laden to justice.” He said when he briefed Mr. Obama’s national security team on the potential raid, there were some who were reluctant.
“But Hillary was clear: We have to go after bin Laden,” Mr. Panetta said.
And he broached the subject of the Islamic State, saying Mrs. Clinton has “a comprehensive plan to defeat and to destroy ISIS.”
Wednesday also saw the swan song for some of the party’s other major figures, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who’s retiring at the end of this year.
Mr. Reid oversaw his party’s rise to a Senate majority in the 2006 election, crafted the strategy that allowed Obamacare to pass despite the GOP holding enough seats to filibuster, and fundamentally reshaped the Senate by triggering the “nuclear option” to change filibuster rules.
In his remarks, the outgoing senator attacked his GOP counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for being “craven.”
Mr. Reid, who was one of the most effective critics of 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, also went after Mr. Trump, calling him “a hateful con man.”
• Ben Wolfgang and S.A. Miller in Philadelphia, and Seth McLaughlin in Washington, contributed to this article.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.