Washington – Connecticut Democrats at their party’s convention in Philadelphia, probably won’t face the kind of drama displayed at last week’s Republican gathering in Cleveland, with its charges of plagiarism in Melania Trump’s speech and a floor fight by anti-Trump forces – but they won’t be spared controversy.
The Democratic National Convention, held in the Wells Fargo Center, will begin on Monday and end Thursday with an acceptance speech by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
It will be an opportunity for Democrats to fine-tune their political message, rally the party for a general election fight and introduce to the nation Clinton’s running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.
While the Democratic convention’s tone is expected to be more muted than the GOP convention’s in Cleveland, there will still be controversies to navigate, including a fight over the future of Democratic “superdelegates,” led by supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Superdelegates are a group of unpledged delegates from every state who are mostly distinguished party leaders and elected officials, including all Democratic members of the House and Senate and sitting Democratic governors.
All but one of Connecticut’s 16 superdelegates said they are committed to Clinton, as are hundreds of others across the nation, which gave her an edge in winning the nomination.
There will also be squabbles over some of the planks in the Democratic platform, which was finalized this week with the help of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the co-chair of the platform committee. Even as Democrats tout the policy document as the most progressive in the party’s history, Sanders supporters will seek modifications in the party’s policy on trade, Israel and other issues.
As at the event in Cleveland, there also will be protests in Philadelphia.
For example, Sanders supporters plan to march on several days form City Hall to the Wells Fargo Center, about four miles away, to join a rally at a park across from the convention site where more than 30,000 are expected.
Sanders, who waged a protracted primary battle against Clinton, has endorsed his former rival. But some of his supporters are slow to shift their political support. Sanders plans to meet with his delegates, which number about 1,900, before the curtain rises on the convention on Monday and make a prime-time speech in support of Clinton that night.
Eloisa Melendez, a city councilwoman from Norwalk and a Sanders delegate, said she hoped for unity.
“At the end of the day, we have a common enemy – Donald Trump,” Melendez said.
She is one of the 27 Connecticut delegates who are pledged to Sanders. There are 28 pledged delegates for Clinton, who also has the support of at least 15 superdelegates.
This is the first national convention for Melendez, who at 22 is probably the youngest Connecticut delegate, but Melendez is no novice to politics, having been elected to the city council at the age of 19.
Melendez said she hopes to meet Democrats and leave the convention energized to campaign for Clinton.
“I don’t hate Hillary; I just strongly believe in Bernie,” she said.
Thomas “TJ” Clark, a Hartford city councilman and a Clinton delegate is attending his first national convention too. He plans to attend party caucuses “to learn about government and policies.”
He’s also hoping for unity among the Clinton and Sanders forces.
“If there are any differences, they will be worked out,” he said.
Partying and politicking
Besides the 71 delegates, the Connecticut contingent to the convention will include five alternate delegates who would take the place of delegates who are unable to vote. The group also includes about 25 guests, usually fundraisers and party activists.
They will all stay at a DoubleTree near the airport with the Georgia delegation.
State Rep. William Tong, is the only Asian American in the Connecticut delegation, which is otherwise diverse.
DNC rules require delegates to be evenly split by gender, so there are 38 male and 38 female Connecticut delegates. Twelve of the state’s delegates are black, seven Hispanic and two Native American.
Tong, a Clinton supporter and superdelegate, said he’s yet to take a side in the controversy about superdelegates, who are not elected nor bound to any candidate but usually support the party’s favorite.
“I need to hear what the various arguments are,” he said.
Tong is one of three Clinton “whips” in the delegation, in charge of persuading delegates to support the presumptive presidential candidates’ position.
He plans to sponsor a lunch Wednesday for the Connecticut delegation in Philadelphia’s Chinatown.
A national party convention is a mix of politicking and partying, with dozens of receptions, lunches, dinners and entertainments the delegation members plan to attend, including a concert in Camden, N.J., headlined by Lady Gaga.
The parties kick off Sunday evening with a welcoming reception for the Connecticut, New Mexico and Hawaii delegates.
Delegates will begin each day with a breakfast that helps them coordinate activities for the day – and prepares them for their duties on the convention floor, The breakfast usually features a guest speaker who aims to energize the group.
On Wednesday, that speaker will be civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who led a rebellion on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives last month with Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, to press for votes on gun control legislation.
Malloy will be the featured breakfast speaker Tuesday.
Connecticut speakers will also take the convention stage.
The head of the Democratic Governors Association, Malloy will address the convention Monday, stressing the importance of electing Democratic governors this year.
Murphy, who will speak about gun control, will address the convention Wednesday, a day the theme of gun violence will be stressed. Erica Smegielski, the daughter of slain Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung, also will speak to the delegates that evening.
She was featured in a 60-second television ad supporting Clinton that ran in Connecticut and Rhode Island during the states’ presidential primaries and has criticized Sanders for his failure to support a lawsuit by Sandy Hook families against the maker of the semi-automatic rifle used by Adam Lanza in the killings.
While Malloy is the official head of the Connecticut delegation, Connecticut Democratic Party Chairman Nick Balletto is the unofficial leader of the group, responsible for organizing and managing the event for the state’s delegation.
Balletto said the hardest thing will be to obtain extra guest passes for those “who just come down (to Philadelphia) and want to get in.”
Like other delegates, Balletto wants to make sure everyone comes back “with a united front.”
“We have to make sure Donald Trump never sees Washington again,” he said.
As a true-blue state, Connecticut Democrats are rarely given the best seats on the floor of the convention arena – that’s reserved for swing states and the states of the presidential and vice presidential candidates.
The delegation seating was still in flux when Balletto was interviewed, but he says the nosebleed seats have their advantage.
“You can get a lot of guests in,” he said. “If you sit up front, other people can’t sit with you.”
What to watch for
Theme: United Together, Putting Families First
Immigration reform and substance abuse will be main issues today.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will address delegates, so will Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, First Lady Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton.
Delegates will vote on party platform
Theme: A Lifetime of Fighting for Children and Families
The convention will focus on health care and education.
Delegates hold roll call for presidential nominee
Theme: Working Together – A Clear Choice
Gun violence will a main topic today.
Vice presidential candidate addresses convention.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Erica Smegielski, the daughter of slain Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung, address convention on the need to pass federal gun control legislation.
Theme: Stronger Together
There will be calls for a higher minimum wage and to reduce the wage gap between American workers.
Hillary Clinton will give her acceptance speech.