The curtain rose on high political theater in Philadelphia as the Democratic National Convention kicked off with delegate breakfasts crammed with high-power speakers delivering a low-energy message of unity and equality.
Pennsylvania’s delegates were entreated by heavy hitters like PA’s US Sen. Bob Casey, NJ Sen. (and onetime veep possibility) Cory Booker, US Rep. Keith Ellison and Gov. Tom Wolf. Unlike the bizarro world of this year’s Republican National Convention, where a party built on defending personal liberty and free markets bent toward authoritarianism and protectionist economic policies, Democrats hewed to more traditional messages over the din of networking and clanging chafing dishes.
“Hillary Clinton is about fairness; Hillary Clinton is about equality,” offered Gov. Wolf during an address that caused some in the room to give him a standing ovation as he left the podium.
Wolf also trumpeted Democrats’ record of expanding access to health insurance for Pennsylvanians, and recent legalization of medical marijuana. But generally, themes of unity, equality, workers rights, environmentalism – and, of course, support for Clinton and US Senate candidate Katie McGinty – rang throughout each speech.
“Remember what Hillary Clinton said,” Casey exhorted. “She said, ‘The defining challenge we have is raising income for hard-working Americans.’”
But forgettable, feel-good events like Pennsylvania’s delegate breakfast will likely be eclipsed by coverage and anxieties over party divisions stemming from protests and a recent email scandal that claimed the administrative career of controversial party chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. As PA delegates dined, Wasserman-Schultz was booed off the stage across town at Florida’s kickoff event, in a story that is already trending nationally.
At the close of the PA breakfast, Ellison warned that Democrats had to reverse years of losses to Republicans in state legislatures across the US.
“All over this country since 2008, we have lost 910 state legislative seats,” he said. “We need Democrats in the state of Pennsylvania to reclaim the state house and state senate.”
Ellison said without more efforts to win fights over voter ID laws and redistricting, Democratic executives would continue to face hostile legislatures in a strongly partisan speech that was lost on many attendees as they filed out onto an already-steamy Broad Street.