PHILADELPHIA — Democrats vowed that their convention would be an orderly and united affair, in contrast with Donald Trump’s coronation at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
But the Wikileaks release of dozens of emails by Democratic National Committee staff, combined with Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s decision on Sunday to step down as DNC chairwoman in response to the leak undercut the convention’s opening night theme of “United Together.”
The leaked emails showed party officials, who are supposed to remain neutral during the primaries, discussing ways to harm Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign.
The emails provided evidence for the argument that Sanders and many of his supporters have been making all along: that the political system is “rigged” in favor of establishment candidates.
The controversial emails and Schultz’s resignation came at a particularly bad time for Clinton, who is still struggling to win over Sanders supporters and put the primary season behind her.
Monday night’s program was designed to appeal to liberals in the party, with speeches from Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, both of whom have endorsed Clinton and could lend a progressive voice to her campaign.
But it remains unclear if their prime-time speeches will convince disgruntled Sanders supporters to back Clinton in the general election.
A quarter of Sanders voters said they won’t back Clinton in the general election, according to a new CNN/ORC poll released Monday. Other studies suggest that number could be smaller, however: a recent Pew survey found that 90 percent of “consistent” Sanders supporters prefer Clinton over Trump.
Overall, the CNN/ORC poll, which was taken right after the Republican National Convention and reflected a post-convention bump in the polls for Trump, found him leading Clinton by 48 to 45 percent. Clinton had led Trump by nearly double digits in national polls earlier this month.
Republicans argued that the race was narrowing as voters start paying closer attention. “Trump is really better positioned than Clinton for what the electorate says it wants,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma.
“It’s very clear people want change, and I’m sure [at the Democratic National Convention] she’ll try to disqualify the kind of change that Trump is offering,” Cole added. “But what kind of change Clinton is going to offer is the key challenge for her.”
There were early signs that the convention won’t be as smooth as party leaders hoped.
As anger mounted over the DNC’s leaked emails on Sunday, Sanders supporters rallied in downtown Philadelphia, chanting “Hell no, DNC, we won’t vote for Hillary.”
Pro-Sanders groups are planning to hold demonstrations throughout the week, ensuring that the divisions in the Democratic Party will remain on display even as the party’s top leaders gather to present a unified front against Trump.
Michelle Obama is scheduled to speak on Monday, followed by former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will speak on Wednesday night. Sen. Tim Kaine, Clinton’s newly selected running mate, will also deliver a prime-time address.
The roster of high-profile Democrats stands in marked contrast to last week’s convention. The two living former Republican presidents and the party’s last two presidential nominees refused to attend the event in order to signal their discomfort with Trump’s candidacy.
On Monday, Democratic insiders said they were confident the convention’s keynote speakers would give voters a stark choice between Clinton and Trump, who delivered an unusually dark nominating speech in Cleveland.
The convention’s main speakers “need to inspire people and draw people in as opposed to try and frighten them as we saw last week,” said Jerry Crawford, an Iowa attorney who has served as a campaign adviser to both Clintons.
Democrats are also hoping voters will draw inspiration from Clinton’s history-making speech on Thursday night, when she will become the first female major-party presidential nominee in U.S. history.
“That deserves a fair amount of attention. It’s a big deal,” said Ellen Fitzpatrick, a historian at the University of New Hampshire. “When the attention is focused on Clinton directly, when she has air time to really speak to the country, she does well.”