CHICAGO – Hillary Clinton urged Democrats to vote in “overwhelming" numbers in remarks Wednesday night to the Democratic National Convention that at times reflected her bitter loss to Donald Trump four years ago despite winning the popular vote.
“Don't forget: Joe and Kamala can win by 3 million votes and still lose. Take it from me," the former secretary of state said in a video recorded from her home in Chappaqua, New York. “We need numbers overwhelming, so Trump can't sneak or steal his way to victory."
Trump, a Republican, won the Electoral College to secure the presidency and added another layer to Clinton's deep and complicated role in American political culture. After four decades in public life and two of her own bids for the presidency, in 2008 and 2016, she's despised by many Republicans, viewed warily by some progressives and beloved by many Democrats, particularly women, who see her as a survivor.
Her speech laced together stark comments about Trump's presidency and reminders of her loss, as well as praise for Kamala Harris, Biden's running mate and the first Black woman on a major party's presidential ticket. Wearing white to mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, Clinton evoked her experience as a woman seeking the presidency.
“I know something about the slings and arrows she’ll face. And believe me, this former district attorney and attorney general can handle them all," Clinton said of Harris, referencing the jobs she held in California before becoming a senator.
Clinton said she wished that Trump had been able to put aside his own interests and ego to learn how to be a president, but that he hasn't.
“For four years, people have told me, ‘I didn’t realize how dangerous he was.’ ‘I wish I could go do it all over.’ Or worse, ‘I should have voted.’ Well, this can’t be another woulda, coulda, shoulda election,” she said.
Clinton, who spoke for about five minutes, appeared during a night that highlighted the achievements of Democratic women. Her appearance was likely to send a message about staying in the fight to women across the country for whom 2016 was a turning point, said Cecile Richards, co-founder of Supermajority, which formed in 2019 to work toward gender equality.
“The fact that she hasn’t given up, I think, has encouraged a lot of women to not give up,” said Richards, the former president of Planned Parenthood. “I think there’s an important role she has to play in saying, ‘OK, she’s getting up every morning and doing this work and we can, too.'
After Trump’s election, millions turned out for women’s marches and women ran for — and won — office in record numbers, helping Democrats take control of the U.S. House in 2018. A record number of women, including Harris, sought this year’s Democratic presidential nomination. And the number of women running for the House and the U.S. Senate set a record again this year, as did the number of women of color running, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
“Since 2016 we've seen these waves of women stepping up" at all levels of government, said Adrianne Shropshire, president of BlackPAC, a national organization that works to mobilize Black voters. “You have this ‘Before Hillary’ and ‘After Hillary,’ when things are very, very different."
Shropshire called Clinton a “trailblazer” who made a way for other women while enduring attacks dating from her time as first lady in the 1990s to her 2016 loss after a campaign in which Trump often led rally crowds in chants of “lock her up.” She said the Democratic Party also has shifted since 2016 to lean more into the base of Black voters and progressives, and to look more like the country.
Wednesday's speech was Clinton’s sixth to the Democratic National Convention. In 1992 her husband, longtime Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, was the nominee, but Clinton didn't speak at that year's convention. Her first DNC speech was in 1996, when the then-first lady faced criticism about the Whitewater scandal and for having too much influence on administration policy.
In 2000, Clinton spoke as a candidate for the Senate, and in 2004 the then-senator from New York introduced her husband. She was on stage in 2008 after her first presidential bid, backing Barack Obama, the man to whom she lost the nomination and in whose administration she later served as secretary of state. In 2016 she was the nominee and told delegates, "We just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet.”
Karen Finney, a former Clinton press secretary and senior adviser to her 2016 campaign, said Clinton represents the arc of history for women and women in politics, from a first lady who wasn't supposed to publicly exert influence to a presidential nominee. Clinton has noted that while women won the right to vote in 1920, that right wasn’t extended to Black women and other women of color until decades later, Finney said.
“To then have a Black woman on the ticket as vice president, it demonstrates how far we've come. But we're also at a moment in history where we really aren't where we should be,” she said.
And, Finney added, “she certainly has some of the best insight about what it's like to run against Donald Trump." ___ Ronayne reported from Sacramento, Calif.