Fussing, fighting will forge unity, Democrats say on eve of convention

Follow The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's political team as it reports this week from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Stay on top of the developments by following our special convention page at http://www.myajc.com/2016-democratic-convention/. You can also follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GAPoliticsNews or on Facebook at https://facebook.com/gapoliticsnewsnow. To see our coverage of last week's Republican National Convention in Cleveland, go to http://www.myajc.com/2016-republican-convention/.

Ben Myers predicts a battle this week at the Democratic National Convention between Hillary Clinton's supporters and those still fighting for Bernie Sanders.

But, the labor lobbyist and veteran Democrat said, it’s really no big deal.

“We are Democrats,” he said. “We just absolutely love to fuss and fight amongst ourselves. That’s part of being a Democrat.”

In the end, however, Myers expects the Democratic Party is “going to come out of Philadelphia united for the election of the next president of the United States, and that is Hillary Clinton.”

That is one way this week's Democratic affair will likely be different than last week's Republican National Convention, where division between forces loyal to Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump flared up before tens of millions of Americans watching on television. Any disagreement in Philadelphia, Georgia delegates say, will likely be minor in comparison, considering that Sanders has already endorsed Clinton.

There are Georgia-centric differences, too. While few elected Georgia Republicans served as delegates in Cleveland and several stayed away altogether or made brief appearances, nearly every major elected Georgia Democrat will be wearing delegate credentials in Philadelphia.

Several Georgians will also grace the convention stage with speaking roles. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, will give speeches. Former state Sen. Jason Carter of Atlanta will introduce a video from his grandfather former President Jimmy Carter. Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is co-chairwoman of the national platform committee, meaning she is likely to appear on stage.

There will be similarities between the two conventions.

There will likely be long, turgid speeches, as there were in Cleveland, and there’s potential for protests on the streets of Philadelphia. Just as last week was the national debut for Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s choice for vice president, this week in Philadelphia will be the chance for the country to get its first good look at Clinton’s VP nominee, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. Clinton’s pick of Kaine has the potential to rile Sanders’ delegates. Already those loyal to the Vermont senator have publicly objected to Kaine’s record on trade and Wall Street regulation.

“Who knew Secretary Clinton didn’t need the millions of Sanders supporters, especially in the all-important swing states?” Karen Bernal, a Sanders delegate from California, said in a press release from a national group of Sanders supporters. “Her choice of Sen. Kaine is a big ‘shut up and sit down’ to the progressive wing of the party. Rather than demonstrate she will work to roll back the worst of neoliberal economic policies, she’s apparently decided to promote them in her choice of Kaine.”

The race between Clinton and Sanders lasted months longer than most pundits expected when the Vermont U.S. senator first announced his bid for president in April 2015. And while Sanders endorsed Clinton on July 12, the competition between the two moved from the campaign trail to conference rooms as the party hashed out its national platform, essentially a lengthy statement on party ideals and values.

Sanders, who will speak Monday night, won several concessions in that fight, but many of his supporters said they hope to push the platform further left when it comes up for a floor vote this week. Gone, however, is earlier talk that Sanders delegates would launch a floor fight over Clinton's nomination.

Asked whether he expects such a battle in Philadelphia, state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, Sanders' most high-profile Georgia supporter, said if it does happen, it won't come from the Sanders campaign.

Fort would not be surprised, however, to see Sanders’ delegates push for language in the platform specifically opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that Sanders and Clinton both oppose.

“Debate and discussion is very healthy and good,” Fort said.

But he also said that the platform fight proved that Sanders’ supporters have power.

“Folks did not adopt the Sanders platform because they think it was the right thing to do,” he said. “They did it because we made them do it.”

Hannah Perkins, a Sanders delegate from the 5th Congressional District in Atlanta, said she’s more focused on fighting for issues important to her district and does not expect a standoff between the two former rivals.

“I wouldn’t look at it as opposition,” said Perkins, a field organizer for the Democratic Party of Georgia. “We have to be pragmatic.”

But pragmatism is not what many of Sanders’ rank-and-file supporters want to hear.

“Make yourselves heard at this convention,” Dani Washburn recently told a group of Sanders delegates at a meeting in Atlanta. “Do everything you can to scare the hell out of the Democratic Party. Let them know we’re here. It’s not just a personality cult that is going away overnight. We want the Democratic Party to change, but we’re not going to wait for it.”

Myers and other veteran Clinton supporters say fussing and feuding is what Democrats do, and that in the end they’ll come together. But many of those heading to Philadelphia as Sanders delegates are new to politics and not enamored of the old ways.

“Well, I guess as an older guy — I’m 71 years old — I’m going to try and reach out to them on an individual basis,” he said.

Myers’ first job in politics was on George McGovern’s 1972 bid for the White House. He lost. Badly.

“I’ll let them know I know how you feel,” Myers said. “It takes time sometimes to get things done. But I assure you a Democratic president will be more sympathetic toward getting everything done we need to get done than the other guy.”

Leslie Small, another Clinton delegate, said he remembers there being a similar dynamic in 2008, when Clinton lost the nomination to Barack Obama. Many Clinton supporters talked about turning that year’s convention into a last-ditch effort to get her the nomination. It never happened. It won’t this time, either, Small predicted.

“People who are tried and true Democrats are probably going to come on board,” said Small, a graduate student and editor of an academic journal. “They might not be happy, but they’re going to come on board. The question will be independents who may not self-identify with the party. I don’t know if they will come along, but given the binary choice we’re going to have, I think most will.”

Clinton delegate Virginia Webb, a beekeeper from Habersham County, said the Clinton-Sanders split should not overshadow the historic nature of this convention.

“Ninety-six years ago the nation ratified the 19th Amendment for the women’s right to vote,” Webb said. “Ninety-six years later we’re going to make history by putting Hillary Rodham Clinton on the ballot as our nominee. That’s a big deal.”