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Editorial: Six tips for Democrats heading to convention

Workers prepare a mass of balloons for the 2016 Democratic National Convention Friday in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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For an overall political convention disaster, none may ever beat the Democrats’ rioting-marred gathering at the Chicago International Amphitheatre in 1968. But last week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland had plenty of how-did-we-let-that-happen moments. As the Democrats prepare to begin their convention on Monday in Philadelphia, the party will need to work hard to avoid its own pitfalls. Here are some of the items that should be on party’s to-do list for a challenging week.

Embrace change. The message from the primary voters in both parties was that the status quo isn’t working for them. They’re worried about good jobs for themselves and their children, about their 401Ks, about getting their kids into a good college, and about the growing financial gulf between the wealthiest and poorest Americans. It won’t be easy for Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to shake the impression that her presidency would simply be a status quo extension of Barack Obama’s eight years. The convention gives her a stellar opportunity to look Americans in the eye and tell them what she’ll change for the better. Her husband, Bill Clinton, successfully ran as a candidate of change. Hillary Clinton, long seen as a pragmatic politician, needs to find a way to do that as well.

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Unify the party. The Democrats have an opportunity to present a much more united front than the one the Republicans displayed last week. A televised boo-fest over convention rules, during which some state delegations walked off the floor, marred the first day in Cleveland. More boos, heckling and Sen. Ted Cruz’s prime-time refusal to endorse Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on the third day were nightmarish for Trump and overshadowed the appearance of vice presidential nominee Mike Pence. But the Democrats have very real divisions of their own. Clinton needs to bring Bernie Sanders’ young voters aboard, and she’ll need help from Sanders when he addresses the convention and viewers on Monday. But it’s unlikely Clinton will feel the need to upstage Sanders by walking into the area while he is still speaking, as Trump did to Cruz.

Make the message clear. No one disputes Clinton is experienced, but that has given the GOP a chance to pick away at her record on Benghazi and other issues. Clinton needs to make the case that her experience is valuable while persuading viewers she brings a fresh approach. Some observers criticized the Republican convention for lining up unimpressive speakers and appearing undisciplined. Democrats need to avoid those errors.

Be hopeful. Donald Trump painted a negative portrait of a dystopian America bedeviled by illegal immigrants, crime, a lack of respect abroad, ruinous international trade, and a lack of respect for America abroad. Clinton has a chance to paint a different picture. Unemployment is down. The stock market is up. Interest rates are low. Millions more have health care. The worst of the foreclosure crisis is over. But in crafting an uplifting story, she must also make it clear she understands many people are still suffering. After two decades in the public eye, it’s hard to change one’s image. But Clinton needs to prove she is not just a guarded politician who hides from news conferences.

No unwanted sideshows. The kerfuffle over Melania Trump’s lifting of Michelle Obama’s words for her own speech drowned out any other message the party was hoping to convey as the convention opened. Donald Trump’s attack on the long-admired NATO alliance just before he accepted the nomination opened the split in the Republican Party even wider. Another unforced error: Musician George Harrison’s estate blasted the “unauthorized” use of “Here Comes the Sun” as Ivanka Trump took the stage at the convention. It’s not a good idea to get Beatles’ fans mad. There still are a lot of them out there.

Take it easy on Chicago: At the GOP convention, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani called Chicago a shooting gallery. We hope the Democrats will be more polite.

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