PHILADELPHIA — Democrats made history Tuesday by officially nominating Hillary Clinton to be the first woman presidential nominee of a major party in the United States’ 240-year existence.
The significance of Clinton's achievement has often been overshadowed during a long and colorful presidential campaign. But Democrats hope to remind voters of the feat as Clinton prepares to face off against Donald Trump, whose comments about women have turned off female voters.
They got off to a strong start during the second night of the Democratic National Convention.
The themes of women and history were woven into almost every speech, performance, and even in the signs reading “history” passed out to delegates.
Clinton formally received the nomination after a roll call vote of delegates from all 50 states, a moment made all the more significant by Bernie Sanders. After fighting a long and sometimes bitter campaign against Clinton — which included him once calling her “unqualified” to be president — he rose to the microphone to nominate her in acclimation.
The uplifting moment of party unity was brought down somewhat by the hundreds of Sanders delegates who walked out of the convention hall. But the gesture nonetheless filled many Democrats with hope and optimism, evident by tissues being passed around in the stands between young women.
It took two tries for Clinton to get here, but get here she did. The tenacity required to run for president twice in the face of congressional probes and jokes about her hair were a theme throughout the evening.
“What does it take to the be first female anything? It takes grit and grace,” said actress Meryl Streep, wearing an American flag dress. “Hillary Clinton has taken some fire over 40 years.”
Bill Clinton, among the few people alive who know first-hand what it’s like to be president, didn’t talk about his White House tenure hardly at all during his keynote address.
Instead, he talked about the Hillary Clinton only he knows. Summoning his charm and nostalgia-factor, Bill said that the Hillary that people don’t trust or don't like is not real. It’s a “cartoon,” created by Republicans, he said.
“Cartoons are two-dimensional, they're easy to absorb. Life in the real world is complicated and real change is hard and a lot of people even think it's boring,” he said. “Good for you because earlier today you nominated the real one.”
It was a new tact from the former president, who tends to discuss his wife in more tactical terms as a “changemaker.” Instead, he portrayed her as human — warm and authentic.
President Obama dubbed Bill Clinton the “secretary of explaining stuff” for his wonky stemwinder of a speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, which was heavy on policy and numbers as he dismantled the GOP’s economic agenda.
Tuesday night’s speech was very different. Instead of being an authority figure, Clinton came across as a proud stranger at a party going on a little bit too long about his family.
The personal sections of the speech played poorly on political Twitter, but might land better with viewers at home who haven’t heard the well-worn anecdotes he told.
“She will never quit you,” he assured.
The night also featured a performance by Alicia Keyes, who called on Sanders and Clinton supporters to come together. “Women are the answer. We have the power,” the singer said.
It finished with video montage that drove the point of the entire night home.
The video featured a succession of faces of male presidents, one after another. Then, zooming out to show all 43 presidents at once, the image shattered, invoking Hillary Clinton’s “18 million cracks in the glass ceiling” speech, as the face of now-official Democratic nominee appeared.
“We just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling,” Clinton said in the surprise appearance, live via satellite. “And if there are any little girls out there who stayed up to watch, let me just say that I may become the first woman president, but one of you is next.”
Clinton will address the convention Thursday.
The core of the programming, between the roll call vote and Bill Clinton’s speech, were remarks from so-called Mothers of the Movement, whose African-American sons and daughters were killed by gun violence and police incidents.
Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, said Clinton had the right balance of personal qualities — the “compassion and understanding to support grieving mothers” and “the courage to lead the fight for common-sense gun legislation.”
The inclusion of the mothers, as well as the entertainers, softened the pure politics that can dominate political conventions, much as First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech did the night before.
Clinton’s campaign is targeting, perhaps more than any other single demographic group, suburban women. Much of Tuesday's program seemed designed with them in mind.
Still, speakers like Sen. Amy Klobuchar were happy to put the matter in starkly political terms.
“Elevating women across the world so they're treated with dignity and respect — that's what Hillary Clinton will do,” she said. “And if that means playing the woman card, Donald Trump, let me tell you: There are hundreds of millions of women in this world who are ready to play that card. And in the United States of America, it's called the voting card.”