Amid leadership shift, Missouri delegates file in for Democratic National Convention

Jul 25, 2016
Originally published on July 25, 2016 5:09 pm

PHILADELPHIA – In some ways, Hillary Clinton’s impending presidential nomination has been a long time coming for U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.

The Kansas City Democrat was a strong supporter of Clinton in 2008. He said he felt immense pressure to back then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama – who, of course, would go onto become America’s first black president.

“Loyalty should supersede almost anything else in politics. Unfortunately it doesn’t,” Cleaver said. “And I didn’t know Barack Obama like most of the other people. And so, I was unwilling to abandon a friend for somebody simply because I’m African-American and he’s African-American." He said Obama saw his loyalty to Clinton as a sign of character and later made him a co-chairman of his re-election campaign.

Now that Clinton is days away from accepting the Democratic nomination, Cleaver admits that he’s pretty happy with the way things turned out. As he stood in the lobby of a downtown Philadelphia hotel, Cleaver said that to “live and witness the first African-American president and then followed by the first woman is just unbelievably lucky for somebody like me.” 

Cleaver’s sentiments have been shared by a good chunk of the Missouri delegation, a mix of elected officials, activists and behind-the-scenes players. Some such as  state Auditor Nicole Galloway are enthused about placing a woman at the top of a presidential ticket.

“I am looking forward to supporting the first woman to accept the nomination for president – and hopefully push over the line to get there,” Galloway said. “This is a historic moment. And you know, being a woman statewide official in Missouri, it means a lot to me. Because you want to see women leaders succeed.”

Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Roy Temple repeated his contention that the next few days will foster a lot of enthusiasm among the party faithful. He said there’s an added layer of excitement over the selection of U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine as Clinton’s running mate – especially since the Virginia Democrat has Missouri ties.

“It’s just another level of excitement that comes,” Temple said. “Because I do think that people will be enthused that he has that deep, rich Missouri experience to draw upon. We take pride. I think another interesting thing, a Missouri tie to the Philadelphia convention is that 1948 was the last time Democrats came to Philadelphia and they nominated Harry S Truman while they were here.”

An undertow

But as people wait for the convention to gavel into order on Monday afternoon, the Democratic Party is facing some upheaval. 

For starters, news broke on Sunday that Democratic National Committee chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was stepping down from her post. It came after Wikileaks released a slew of unflattering e-mails, many of which angered supporters of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders supporters also made headway in changing how so-called "super delegates" can vote. 

While he won’t have enough delegates to prevent Clinton from snagging the nomination, Sanders will have a fairly large contingent of delegate support over the next few days. In fact, Missouri’s delegation is split basically evenly between Clinton backers and Sanders supporters.

And a few Sanders delegates said they were not enthused with Clinton's decision to pick Kaine as a running mate. 

“I mean, apparently, it’s an acceptable vetted choice,” said Columbia resident Khesha Duncan. “Probably would not have been my choice, but I’m not in that position obviously. I wish the email would have come out sooner – that might have made a difference.”

Brandon Baker is a 19-year-old Kansas City resident and a Sanders delegate. He wondered aloud how Wasserman Schultz’s departure would impact the rest of the convention. 

“I am kind of curious to see how things will go, because she’s the one who’s mainly anti-Bernie,” Baker said. “So it kind of makes me wonder if things will be a little more smooth. I personally think what will happen is Hillary’s camp will try to shut us up and keep us as quiet and under control as possible. But then you’ll have those who try to resist, those who protest, those who are loud, those are subservient. … I think there’s going to be a lot of mixed reaction.”

When asked about Wasserman Schultz’s departure, Cleaver said he had decidedly mixed feelings. While adding that he had close personal ties with her, Cleaver said she made the right decision to avoid being a distraction at the convention.

“I know her children – her twins. I was invited to their Bar Mitzvahs. I have to preface by making sure that you understand the closeness we have,” Cleaver said. “I think that there was clearly an attempt to reduce the tension at the convention with the Sanders people. … I would rather have a smooth convention than I would have my friend in the way of a smooth convention. And I think she would agree.”

With Sanders slated to speak later on Monday, Temple noted backers of the senator had a “choice in the primary, we have a different choice now. The choice is between Secretary Clinton and Donald Trump.”

Clinton delegate and former state Sen. Ken Jacob of Columbia expressed a similar sentiment: “They’re going to have to get behind the Democratic candidate or let Donald Trump win.”

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