PHILADELPHIA— The respective national party conventions in Philadelphia and Cleveland provided a stark contrast between the state of each major party’s campaign tactics and infrastructure.
Cleveland, while a welcoming host city and an efficiently organized event, offered an inconsistent program devoid of the usual flourishes consistent with professionally produced conventions.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, was a shining display of modern campaigning. From the slick videos to the tightly organized themes to the choreography of speakers to the large American flags distributed to the crowd on Thursday night ahead of retired Gen. John Allen’s speech, it couldn’t have been a sharper contrast with the Republicans’ confab. In fact, it wasn’t just the imagery of the event. The Clinton campaign clearly organized aggressively around their convention
Early on Thursday night, Marlon Marshall, the Clinton campaign’s states and political engagement director, lead attendees on a tour of watch parties from Colorado, Wisconsin and Virginia. He asked supporters to text in “win” to the campaign’s number, a request that was later repeated with the same number but with “jobs,” possibly to segment the SMS list. Later, actor Chloe Grace Moritz highlighted iwillvote.com, a site the tells voters’ their registration status and helps them get on the rolls.
The public outreach wasn’t as sophisticated at the Republican National Convention. Instead, the biggest takeaway was Trump doubling down on his earned-media strategy. During his acceptance speech, he went on for a total of 74 minutes.
Democratic strategist David Axelrod argued that Trump carrying that strategy into the general would improve Clinton’s chances. “He’s the ultimate media candidate, but he doesn’t have a clue how modern campaigns are run,” Axelrod, who now heads the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, said Thursday at a panel in Philadelphia hosted by The Atlantic. “Media and message get you want down the field, but the field goal team is data-driven voter contact and he doesn’t have that.”
In a close contest, he added, “she’s going to have an advantage.”
The speeches and videos at the Democratic National Convention created a seamless narrative of succession from the Obama administration to Clinton. But tension between Clinton and Sanders supporters simmered while that narrative played out on stage and screen. Clinton tried personally to heal the rift by saluting her formal rival early in her acceptance speech.
“You put economic and social justice issues front and center where they belong,” she said. “I heard you. Your cause is our cause.”
Clinton had barely got those words out when people started holding up anti-TPP signs and calling back at her. They were soon drowned out by cheers.
But away from the Wells Fargo Center, the Sanders-Clinton divide was clearer to see. In fact, one of the most heated exchanges of all the programming between the two conventions took place Thursday afternoon between former Clinton pollster Mark Penn, Jeff Weaver, Sanders campaign manager, and Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
Penn made a full-throated defense of the global economy. Pointing to Uber as a creator of some of the jobs of the future.
“Let’s understand what kind of country we have, how it’s changing and how it’s moving into the future,” he said.
Lee Saunders, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, derided the gig economy Penn praised. “We can’t organize those workers,” he said, gruffly.
Later, Penn dismissed the idea of factory jobs come back to the United States and noted that almost two thirds of Americans now have a college degree. “We have to put them to work,” Penn said. “They’re not going to go to work in factories.”
Weaver shook his head at Penn and dubbed his comments a “pro-corporate dog whistle.”
He said Sanders supporters wanted to stop corporations from pumping products into the U.S. market “produced with slave labor.”
“We’ve got to stand with working families,” he said. “I think what we learned out there’s a lot of work to be done to re-establish [the Democratic Party’s] credibility with white, working class voters.”
Weaver hinted that Sanders, who is laying the groundwork for his post-2016 organization, may start playing in future primaries up and down the ballot. He said that Democrats need to reorientate the party away from a “corporate affiliation” and toward the grassroots.
“Room has got to be made for those people,” he said.
Taylor, meanwhile, took direct aim at the Clinton campaign, suggesting that despite all the niceties in Philadelphia the party’s divisions are still hiding under a thin veneer.
“I think that there’s a very fragile trust right now between progressives and the Clinton-Kaine ticket,” said Taylor. “There’s not that foundation there. People are waiting to see if they’ll go out and offer this full-throated advocacy of the issues we care about.”
Taylor and other Sanders supporters are clearly anti-free trade. That position has appeal even with allies of Clinton. Saunders, the AFSCME boss, said his union backed the now-Democratic nominee in the primary, but wouldn’t accept “baby steps” on their policy agenda.
“People want to see real change,” he said. “It’s all about priority. Are going to continue to support [policies] that help the point-five percent of this population? We are not against trade. But when trade negatively impacts on working families, then something is wrong.”