PHILADELPHIA (AP) — On the heels of a tumultuous Republican convention, Hillary Clinton hopes her gathering in Philadelphia will show off a forward-looking Democratic Party united behind her steady leadership. But to do that, she must overcome lingering bitterness among supporters of defeated rival Bernie Sanders and a political mess and last-minute leadership shake-up of the party’s own making.
The Democratic National Convention was set to kick off Monday as a week of optimistic celebration with high-powered elected officials and celebrities re-introducing Clinton to a general election audience. But the effort was complicated by the publication of 19,000 hacked emails on the website Wikileaks, suggesting the Democratic National Committee had played favorites for Clinton during the primary.
The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, announced abruptly Sunday afternoon that she would step down at week’s end. Sanders had called earlier Sunday for her departure.
Wasserman Schultz has been a lightning rod throughout the presidential campaign for criticism from the party’s more liberal wing, with Sanders repeatedly accusing the national party of favoring Clinton despite officially being neutral.
“I’m not shocked, but I’m disappointed,” Sanders said of the hacked emails, one of which questioned whether his religious beliefs could be used against him, on ABC’s “This Week.”
Clinton and President Barack Obama each released statements praising Wasserman Schultz’s leadership. “There’s simply no one better at taking the fight to the Republicans than Debbie,” Clinton said.
The self-inflicted wounds could hamper the Clinton campaign’s effort to portray the party’s convention in a different light from the just-concluded Republican gathering in Cleveland. Donald Trump accepted the GOP nomination, but party divisions flared when his chief rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, refused to endorse the billionaire businessman.
Trump appeared to relish in the Democratic chaos Sunday, writing, “The Dems Convention is cracking up.”
At the Republican convention, Trump cast himself as the law-and-order candidate in a nation suffering under crime and hobbled by immigration, sticking to the gloom-and-doom theme. As he accepted the Republican nomination, Trump said: “The legacy of Hillary Clinton is death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.”
In return, Clinton seized upon what she called the “fear and the anger and the resentment” from Trump and Republicans, dismissing Trump’s declaration that only he could fix the problems that afflict the nation.
“Donald Trump may think America’s in decline, but he’s wrong. America’s best days are still ahead of us, my friends,” Clinton said during a campaign event Saturday in Miami.
Sanders will address the convention Monday night, and Obama will speak on Wednesday night. Other high-profile speakers include first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden.
But party disunity is certain to also be a factor in Philadelphia, given Wasserman Schultz’s departure and the general unhappiness among many Sanders supporters, intensified by both the emails and by Clinton’s pick of Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia to be her running mate.
Norman Solomon, a delegate who supports Sanders, said there is talk among Sanders’ delegates of walking out during Kaine’s acceptance speech or turning their backs as a show of protest. Sanders’ supporters believe Kaine is not liberal enough.
Sanders endorsed Clinton two weeks ago after pressing for the party platform to include a $15-an-hour minimum wage, debt-free college and an expansion of access to health care.
Liberal Sanders supporters pushed for changes to the party nominating process at a meeting of the party rules committee Saturday. They did not succeed in an effort to pass an amendment abolishing superdelegates, but they did win a compromise deal with the Clinton camp — a “unity commission” that will review the overall procedures and will seek to limit the role of superdelegates in future elections.
On the hacked emails, Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, tried to shift blame away from DNC officials to “Russian state actors” who, he said, may have hacked into DNC computers “for the purpose of helping Donald Trump,” the Republican presidential nominee.
How the emails were stolen hasn’t been confirmed.
“It was concerning last week that Donald Trump changed the Republican platform to become what some experts would regard as pro-Russian,” Mook said.
Party wrangles aside, Clinton is within just days of her long-held ambition to become the party’s official presidential nominee.
After the DNC released a slightly trimmed list of superdelegates — those are the party officials who can back any candidate — it now takes 2,382 delegates to formally clinch the nomination. Clinton has 2,814 when including superdelegates, according to an Associated Press count. Sanders has 1,893.
Associated Press writers Chad Day and Hope Yen in Washington, Alan Suderman in Richmond, Virginia, and Alex Sanz in Philadelphia contributed to this report.