One of Hillary Clinton’s biggest problems when she took to the stage last night was who had come before her: Barack Obama gave a belting speech at the Democrat convention, which Freddy Gray said was like a band playing back some of their old hits. The audience lapped it up. And her husband Bill’s number also went down well as he showed off some of his famous charm with his potted biography of Hillary & Bill: The love story. So Hillary was in danger of being upstaged before she even took to the stage. But whilst the Democrat nominee’s speech might not have the fiery rhetoric of the man she wants to replace in the White House – and nor does she have the natural oratory talent of her husband – her address was still clever.
In presenting herself as the unity candidate she was able to put further ground – as if it wasn’t there already – between her and Trump. If Trump’s address had echoes of ‘sirens in the night‘, Hillary’s was about one thing: union. That key word ‘together’ popped up twenty times during her speech. And it also wasn’t us, or I, but ‘we, we, we’. This was a speech with all the sentiment of Barack Obama’s famous 2008 address, just without the same soaring verse. But whilst Hillary isn’t going to fire a crowd up in the same way as Obama, that will matter little if her speech works in the way she wanted it to.
The first group she needs on board, and who her speech was aimed at addressing, were those who backed Bernie. Hillary knows she needs all Democrat supporters to get behind her and she made it clear she was for working with Sanders, rather than against her one-time rival. Despite some ongoing resistance from Bernie backers she vowed to pinch some of his economic policies and also tackle issues like student debt which gained Sanders so much support. No one will be watching YouTube re-runs of Hillary’s speech in years to come. But if she managed to speak to those who supported Sanders, Hillary won’t mind a bit.
Yet it’s not only those within her party, who might be disinclined to vote for her, who Hillary needs to now convince. This is no parochial punch-up any more but a country-wide fight for the White House. In her address, she tried to speak directly to Trump supporters. Many of those backing the Donald are the legions of Americans who have found themselves sidelined and silenced by a country which just isn’t working for them. A key part of their struggle is to do with jobs, and Hillary told this key group:
‘We will build an economy where everyone who wants a good paying job can get one.’
Pay for those without university education in America has sat stagnant for 25 years. And here was a clear attempt by Hillary to speak to that portion of society. White working class supporters could easily end up carrying Trump to the White House and Hillary knows it. That demographic favours Trump over Hillary by some 40 points in head-to-head polls. Although Clinton is never going to win over all of that group’s support in the next few months, if she manages to steal some of it she will greatly boost her own chances – and undermine Trump’s hopes – of making it to the Oval Office. The difficulty for Hillary is that those who have come before her have also tried to tackle the same issue in building an economy that works for everyone. And that makes voter’s naturally sceptical – a feeling made worse by the glaring lack of detail on show last night.
Over the coming months, we can expect to hear much more of Hillary’s pitch for unity and see her strategy to convince wavering voters to come on side. Whether it works will decide who wins the White House.