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Democratic Convention, Day 3: Another Good Night for the Blue Team

If there were ever a training video about how to stage a political convention, one could imagine using each party's third convention day for instructional purposes. The GOP—whose Day 3 was dominated by Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) atom bomb of a speech—would be a case study in what not to do. And the Democrats' Day 3 would be the example of exactly how a convention should be staged (well, except for the music—whomever chose the strange porno-style Rocky theme for Joe Biden's entrance should immediately be fired).

On Wednesday, the Democrats had three things that were in short supply at the Republican convention. First was star power. For the GOP, most of the A-listers opted out of the convention, and among those who remained, the lack of enthusiasm was often palpable (see Ryan, Paul). For the Democrats, by contrast, the docket was so loaded that the sitting Vice President of the United States got pushed out of prime time. Second was hope. While the Republicans who appeared last week, including presidential nominee Donald Trump, were full of negativity and pessimism, Wednesday's speakers were overwhelmingly optimistic about the nation's future and its capacity to meet its challenges. Third was an awareness that you can't win elections just by turning out the base. Last week, Republicans had little to say to anyone who does not share the worldview that Trump has been peddling. This week, and particularly Wednesday, the Democrats made a point of (at times) addressing themselves to the independents and disaffected Republicans who may be up for grabs. Similarly, while Trump had little interest in extending olive branches to former Cruz supporters or former Kasich supporters, nearly all of the headliners on Wednesday specifically took time to acknowledge Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and his supporters, with President Obama and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) specifically telling Democrats that it is good that the party should "Feel the Bern." Here are the highlights of Wednesday's proceedings:

  • Former CIA Director Leon Panetta's speech, delivered fairly early in the evening, was notable for two reasons. The first is that it came shortly after Donald Trump challenged Russian hackers to find dirt on Hillary Clinton (see below), and so it was the first opportunity for the Democrats to slam The Donald for his behavior. "Think about that for a moment," said Panetta, "think about that. Donald Trump, who wants to be President of the United States, is asking one of our adversaries to engage in hacking or intelligence efforts against the United States of America to affect an election." This was met with loud boos. The other reason Panetta's speech was notable was that when he began to discuss Hillary Clinton's foreign policy record, the Sandersnistas began to chant "No More War," until the rest of the convention drowned them out with chants of "USA." This was one of two major flare-ups from the Sanders crowd.

  • Among the other non-headliners, there were two particularly outstanding addresses. The first came from former Representative Gabby Giffords, who was badly injured in a mass shooting in Arizona on Jan. 2011. She took the stage to explain that, "Speaking is difficult for me, but in January 2017, I will be able to say these words—'Madam President.'" The other came from Sharon Belkofer, a housewife-turned-activist who lost a son in Afghanistan. Her heartfelt introduction of President Obama will not get a lot of attention, given the megawattage on display around her, but it was an incredibly impressive address even by the standards of a professional politician, much less an amateur.

  • The first major speech of the day was by Vice President Joe Biden who, when he's not plagiarizing, is a very gifted speaker. The folksy "Uncle Joe" persona was on full display, as he skillfully performed the customary campaign role of vice presidents: attack dog. Judging by the reaction from both the crowd and the Internet, Biden landed a haymaker when noting that Donald Trump's famous catchphrase—You're fired—is not something to be proud of, as it represents a very low point in the life of the person on the receiving end. "How can there be pleasure in saying, 'You're fired!'?" he asked. The Vice President landed another blow when he reminded the crowd of his reputation as "middle-class Joe," and then declared, "This guy doesn't have a clue about the middle class. Not a clue." It would have been the speech of the night, if Biden hadn't had to share the evening with President Obama.

  • After Biden came Michael Bloomberg, whose speech wasn't the best of the night, but may have been the most significant. His job was not to speak to the Democratic faithful in the convention hall, but to the people who can't decide if Trump or Clinton is the lesser of two evils. Identifying himself as an independent, and one who does not agree with Hillary Clinton or the Democrats on many things, he said, "[W]hatever our disagreements may be, I've come here to say: We must put them aside for the good of our country. And we must unite around the candidate who can defeat a dangerous demagogue." Bloomberg, a self-made billionaire, also pooh-poohed Trump's business acumen, calling The Donald "a con," and declaring that, "Throughout his career, Trump has left behind a well-documented record of bankruptcies, thousands of lawsuits, angry shareholders and contractors who feel cheated, and disillusioned customers who feel ripped off. Trump says he wants to run the nation like he's run his business—God help us."

  • Next up was vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine, who had two jobs: first, introduce himself to America, and second, slam Donald Trump. During the latter portion of the address, Kaine actually performed his impression of Trump. However, the person that the speech really brought to mind was Biden. The Virginia Senator isn't quite as skilled as the Veep, at least not yet, but he is also folksy and accessible, and clearly is up to his attack dog duties. He slammed The Donald several times, most notably wondering about Trump's tax returns, asking, "Donald, what are you hiding? Does anyone believe that Donald Trump's been paying his fair share of taxes?" Kaine's speech also marked the second time that the Sanders' supporters grew vocal, chanting, "Hey hey, ho ho, TPP has got to go!" and "Bernie!" He rolled with the punches as best he could, but wasn't quite able to calm the crowd.

  • The star of the night, of course, was President Obama. By all accounts, he spent weeks working on his speech. On Wednesday, it also leaked out that the First Lady's speech "raised the bar" and caused him to work late on Monday to make sure his address was equal to hers. In short, it was. He spoke for 44 minutes (and Bill Clinton spoke for 42, appropriately enough), and the magic that was first on display at the 2004 DNC was present once again. He spent a bit of time blasting Trump, comparing him to Ronald Reagan, and observing that Reagan offered hope and solutions, while Trump offers neither. Obama's main focus, however, was making the case for Hillary Clinton, and for why his supporters should transfer their loyalty to her. "Time and again, you've picked me up and I hope, sometimes, I've picked you up, too," he told the audience. "Tonight, I ask you to do for Hillary Clinton what you did for me." Later, he reminded listeners that Clinton has "been in the room," in crisis situations and argued that, "there has never been a man or a woman more qualified than Hillary Clinton" to be president. At the conclusion of Obama's remarks, as the crowd gave him a standing ovation, Hillary Clinton strode on stage and embraced the President. The symbolism could not have been clearer if Obama had literally taken a torch out of his pocket, lit it, and handed it over.

And now, we await the most important speech of Hillary Clinton's life. It's well known, at this point, that a large percentage of voters don't like her. This will be her very best chance to work on that. It will not help things that she's going to be following on the heels of some of the best political speechmakers of this generation—the Obamas, Biden, her husband—and that she herself is not a great public speaker. We'll see how she rises to the challenge. (Z)

Trump Calls for Russia to Find Hillary Clinton's Deleted Emails

Yesterday, Donald Trump went where no presidential candidate has ever gone. He publicly asked a foreign country—and one that is not especially friendly to the United States—to spy on a former top-ranking U.S. government official and release possible confidential information. Literally, he said: "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 emails [from Hillary Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State] that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press." Clinton immediately accused Trump of asking an adversary of the United States to spy on the country and be rewarded for doing do. Imagine an ad that shows Trump making that statement but cuts away just after the word "mightily," leaving the impression that if Russia hacks the U.S. government, a President Trump would reward it for that. Trump has now opened a whole new line of attack based on the idea that he supports a Communist dictator against America. For some moderate Republicans and "America Firsters," this might be a bridge too far. For Democrats, it is close to treason.

Now, is it actually treason? Probably not, writes Slate's Osita Nwanevu. The Constitution says that, "Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort." Suggesting that America's enemies do bad things is not the same thing as giving those enemies aid and comfort, and is certainly not levying war against the country. However, Trump may have run afoul of the law nonetheless. By encouraging Russia to take "imminent lawless action," and to do so using computer resources, he very probably committed a felony under the terms of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. It's quite unlikely that the Justice Dept. will prosecute, given the political overtones that would come from a Democratic administration putting the Republican presidential candidate on trial, but it will make it rather harder for Republicans to argue that Hillary should be "locked up," to borrow Gov. Chris Christie's (R-NJ) phrase.

Meanwhile, the political fallout from Trump's remarks looks to be severe. Eliot Cohen, who was a top official in George W. Bush's State Dept. commented on Trump's statement by saying: "It's appalling." Michael Vickers, an assistant secretary of defense in George W. Bush's administration, put it this way: "His Russia strategy seems to be little more than appeasement. He is doing Vladimir Putin's bidding..." All Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) had to say about this was: "Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug. Putin should stay out of this election." The careful reader will notice that Ryan didn't bother to mention Trump in his statement. Rush Limbaugh, by contrast, was pleased with Trump's comment, calling it "quite clever." Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) 2008 slogan was "Country First." It will be interesting to see how many Republicans in the coming days put country ahead of party. (V & Z)

Security Expert: Russian Hackers Could Target Voting Machines in November

The hacking of the DNC, likely by the Russian intelligence agencies, could be small potatoes compared to the finale. Security expert Bruce Schneier, a lecturer at Harvard, is concerned that the Russians could try to hack voting machines in November in an effort to elect Donald Trump. Now that Donald Trump is inviting Vladimir Putin to take part in the election, there is no reason to think he will stop at leaking some emails.

In the long run, voting machines have to be eliminated or at least replaced by machines that let the voters make choices and then print out paper ballots that the voters can verify and then put in the ballot box or optical scanner. The machines should not keep a running tally of votes cast since they cannot be trusted. Threats come from the manufacturer, people who can access the machines before voting starts, and if the machines are online, from hackers. In the short run (meaning Nov. 2016), machines that can't be replaced should be taken offline, so they cannot be hacked remotely and their code replaced by more Putin-friendly code, possibly months before the election. If that can't be done, voters should be given plain old paper ballots to mark. Under no conditions should anyone even consider creating a committee to study possible future Internet voting. Security experts are unamimous in agreeing there is no way that could ever be made secure. (V)

Suburban Women Are the Big Prize

While many demographic groups have already decided who they are collectively voting for, one group that is still up for grabs is suburban women, like those of Pennsylvania's Bucks County. In 2012, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were separated there by only 4,000 votes out of 321,000 cast. The county is the fourth most populated in Pennsylvania, and contains leafy green neighborhoods, strip malls, rural expanses, and gritty industry. The women in places like this could be decisive. James Carville once commented that Pennsylvania is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between. That is not entirely true, but whoever wins places like Bucks County could win this key state. Clinton and Kaine clearly understand this, so their first post-convention road trip will be a bus tour across Pennsylvania. The Clinton-Kaine campaign has 12 paid staff working in Pennsylvania, with Bucks County being the top target. The Trump-Pence campaign has none so far. (V)

Soros Getting Back in the Game

It was not long ago that George Soros was the Democrats' answer to the Kochtopus or Sheldon Adelson—a billionaire more than willing to drop tens of millions of dollars during campaign season. After he wasted $27 million trying to defeat George W. Bush in 2004, however, he got a bit gun shy, and he was largely invisible during the Obama years. Now, at the age of 85, he's back.

Soros has already committed $25 million this year to electing Hillary Clinton, and to other Democratic causes. Insiders expect he will give more, as he has a long-term relationship with Clinton, as well as a deep and abiding loathing of Donald Trump, whom Soros has accused of "doing the work of ISIS" through his encouragement of Islamophobia. Further, like the Koch Brothers, Soros has a network of like-minded rich friends who might follow his lead. So, that $1 billion target that Clinton has is going to be a bit easier to reach. (Z)

Are the DNC and RNC Being Held in the Same Country?

The Republican National Convention convened last week in a country under siege, with criminals rampant, terrorists threatening ordinary people daily, and illegal immigrants taking over jobs willy nilly. The Democratic National Convention this week is taking place in a still-great country where people are optimistic and hopeful but looking for more love, empathy, justice, and equality. The two countries seemingly have little in common.

The contrasting views each carry risks. The Republicans are pushing for disruptive change, throwing the old order overboard and turning the keys to the White House and the nuclear codes to someone who has never held public office and who has said little about his specific plans, but is convinced he alone can save the country. The Democrats are hoping that while people want change, they don't want violent disruption. "Fear vs. hope" may be a bit of a simplification, but not so much, and the choice of candidates forced the strategists' hands. With Trump, the Republicans could hardly have been the party of continuity and with Clinton the Democrats could never have sold her as someone who would tear the system down and start all over.

Even perennial issues like abortion and fracking haven't gotten much attention this year. It is all about the tone. And both conventions had unexpected events change the script. For the Republicans it was Melania Trump's plagiarism and Ted Cruz's refusal to endorse the nominee. For the Democrats it was the hacked DNC email and deposing of the party chairwoman. Still, the final verdict on how the conventions went will only start to be clear when the polls come in around mid-August after the dust has settled. (V)

Trump Will Definitely Not Release His Tax Returns

As controversy swirled about Donald Trump's connection with Russia and whether he has business ventures there that might be a conflict of interest for him if elected, Paul Manafort repeated what he and Trump had said earlier: Trump is not going to release his tax returns. As an excuse, he points out that he is currently being audited. The IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has said that nothing in the law or IRS regulations prevents anyone from releasing his or her tax returns at any time, even if they are being audited. No doubt Hillary Clinton's prayer tonight will be something along the lines of: "Dear God, thank you so much for the nomination. I really appreciate it. Could I ask for one small favor, though? Could you please arrange for someone to hack Trump's accountant and release Trump's tax returns? Your worshipper, Hillary." (V)

Historic Event Noted with Photos of ... Bill

Hillary Clinton did something Tuesday night that no woman in American history ever did before: She got one of the major parties to nominate her for president. To note this historic event, numerous newspapers had celebratory photos on their front pages—photos of the nominee's husband, Bill Clinton. Granted, Bill spoke at the convention last night, along with many other people, but the real triumph was Hillary's and that seems to have gotten lost in the noise. Some papers did take note however, including USA Today, the Los Angeles Daily News, and the Chicago Sun-Times, but more than a few had Bill or something else as the lead photo. This was not necessarily a case of sexism or bad judgment, though. Hillary only appeared via satellite link, and did so fairly late in the evening. Consequently, running a picture of her meant (effectively) running a picture of a television screen, and even then it came too late for some newspapers' deadlines. (V)

Today's Presidential Polls

Once in a while we find an old poll that we had previously missed, like the Ohio poll by RABA Research. We will put these in the database so the electoral graph time series since January will be made more accurate. (V)

State Clinton Trump Johnson Start End Pollster
Delaware 42% 32%   Jul 20 Jul 24 Fairleigh Dickinson U.
Ohio 43% 39% 5% Jul 18 Jul 20 Suffolk U.
Ohio 41% 38% 9% Jun 22 Jun 28 RABA Research
Vermont 39% 17% 5% Jul 11 Jul 23 Castleton State Coll.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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