Joe Henderson: DNC day one – Hillary Clinton’s apathy problem

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After the first night of the Democratic National Convention, it’s clear that Hillary Clinton’s biggest problem has less to do with emails and big donors and more to do with apathy.

That much became apparent after watching Bernie Sanders’ supporters shower their candidate with the kind of full enthusiastic passion that has thus far eluded Clinton. For that matter, the same parallel can be drawn in the Republican Party for the way Donald Trump’s backers are with him no matter what.

The lesson Clinton should learn from this, if it’s not already too late, is that both Sanders and Trump reached out to groups often ignored in our national politics.

Trump’s campaign will rise or fall on the strength of disaffected white middle-class voters who feel like they pay for everything and receive nothing.

For Sanders, it is those thousands of young voters who flocked to him because he cared enough to include them. The bitter lesson for them is that despite all their support, their candidate didn’t win.

Yes, comedian and Sanders supporter Sarah Silverman was correct when she scolded the crowd Monday night, “To the Bernie or bust crowd, you’re being ridiculous,” but don’t lose sight of what was really happening.

You saw it in the tear-stained faces of Sanders’ supporters when he came out to speak. You heard their cheers when he told them, “We have begun a political revolution to transform America. That revolution, our revolution, continues.”

Keyword: “our” revolution.

Compare that message of inclusion to Trump’s promise to single-handedly transform America. Republicans have chosen the gunslinger. But many Democrats, in rallying around Sanders, are demanding to be heard.

That’s Clinton’s biggest challenge.

Sanders gave Clinton the full force of his endorsement. Speaking directly to his backers who have threatened to stay home, he said, “If you think you can sit it out, take a moment to think about the Supreme Court justices Donald Trump would nominate.”

What he was actually saying to millions of supporters was this: If you’re disappointed now, just imagine how you’ll feel if Trump is elected.

But during the campaign Sanders also expertly painted Clinton as a tool of big money and Wall Street. That’s not an easy image to shake. She can’t win without Sanders’ supporters, but to win them over she has to convince them she has heard their voice.

For that, it will take even more work than Sanders simply saying, as he did Monday, “Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States.”

Sanders’ speech may go down as the most important of the convention. He showed the nation that his support was deep and real, and that his ideas must be taken seriously. He had managed to turn the opening-day narrative away from the WikiLeaks scandal and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

He likely even convinced many of those who supported him to get behind Clinton going forward. Democrats better hope that’s the case. With every poll showing a tight race, especially in the swing states, they need every vote they can get.

They may have picked up a few more Monday.

Whether they picked up an equal amount of enthusiasm for their candidate, though, is still in question.

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Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He has covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also hard news. The two intertwined in the decadelong search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons — Ben and Patrick.