Members of the Rhode Island delegation were still buzzing about the first-night speakers at the Democratic National Convention as they met for breakfast in Philadelphia.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said he was particularly moved by the reaction of Bernie Sanders supporters during his speech.
“Seeing the Bernie people, the young people, in the close-ups on TV weeping as he spoke, was a reminder to all of us how deeply some people put their hearts into that movement,” he said. “For those of us who have lost primaries, either as a candidate or because our candidate didn’t win, it was a reminder that there is a real sorrow and a real adjustment that’s required.”
Whitehouse was impressed by the way Sanders worked to bridge the gap between his supporters and Hillary Clinton. “I honestly don’t know that he could have done that job any better. Clearly he really wanted to try to make sure that took place. He really put his heart into it, and I think he will continue to. Nobody – Bernie voter, Hillary voter – wants to live in a Trump presidency America. Nobody.”
For Congressman David Cicilline, Michelle Obama was a highlight.
“The speech of the First Lady was the most powerful speech of the night,” he said. “She reminded us all of the progress we’ve made — ‘I wake up every morning in a house built by slaves, and I watch my children play on the front lawn’ — it reminded you that this is a great country and we’ve come a very long way, but she also recognized that we have many challenges, that many people are struggling in this country, and that we need a president who understands that struggle, who has real solutions, and that can bring us together. We have only solved problems in this country when we have come together, worked together to overcome them. The tenor of last night’s speeches was such a contrast to the Republicans. They were speeches filled with pragmatism but with tremendous hope and optimism about what is great about this country and our ability to build upon the progress we’ve made.”
Clinton delegate and former candidate for governor Clay Pell agreed that Michelle Obama stole the show.
“The highlight for me was Michelle Obama,” he said. “She was incredible. The whole place lit up. She was an inspiration. The First Lady’s message was about what her own family had been through, and the power of believing in this country. She had a very powerful story about how she lives in a house that was built by slaves, and is now watching two young, smart black girls play on the White House lawn and grow up and believe that because of Hillary Clinton that they too could become president of the United States.”
Pell had kind words for Sanders and his supporters.
“Sanders gave a great, impassioned plea,” he said. “Not only to his own supporters, but to the country, and shared a lot of the values we all way to keep moving forward. I hope he continues to be a leader in the Democratic Party, because he is a person not only of integrity but of vision, and he’s independent in so many ways, and we need that. He’s brought young people, and people of all kinds into politics, and it’s important that we embrace that and recognize that what he’s talking about is the future.”
Sanders delegate Linda Ujifusa wanted to keep the focus on the senator from Vermont.
“I think people should focus on the fact that we were all cheering Bernie,” she said. “I was really impressed with his speech. Of course, as he pointed out, we are disappointed. But his message, of trying to keep the political revolution that he began going is really, really important. I personally decided to run for office based on Bernie’s call to action, because for people to sit on the sidelines is to admit that we’re not willing to be involved.”
Still, some Sanders supporters were unhappy with the message. “I felt betrayed,” said Sanders delegate Laura Perez. “At the beginning of his speech, he even suggested, still vote for me. And then at the end of the speech, okay, you’re all in. This is what we’re going to do.”
Sanders delegate and organizer Lauren Niedel shared in the disappointment.
“Bernie’s speech was inspirational and showed why he should be our next nominee,” she said. “I’m not at all surprised by the message of Bernie’s speech. He stated from the beginning that was his intention. What I’m disappointed in is that if all was fair, if his message could have been seen and heard by more people, and if independents and unaffiliated had their say in each of the primaries, Bernie would be our nominee.”
RI Democratic Party Chairman Joe McNamara praised New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.
“Michelle Obama was great, and I believe we saw a rising star in Cory Booker,” he said. “Booker really took it to the mountaintop with ‘we will rise together.’ That will be a speech that will definitely go down in the history of the Democratic Party, and we’ll be hearing a lot more from Cory Booker.”
“Bernie did an excellent job,” added McNamara. “The speech was wonderful, and everyone — everyone — cheered him.”
McNamara added, “Sen. Sanders stating that this campaign is not about Bernie Sanders, it is not about Hillary Clinton, it’s about the future of our nation, our children and grandchildren, was something, to me, that really hit home.” McNamara said that felt like Sanders’ way of telling his followers, “We’ve worked very hard, but it’s time to support the platform that represents many of the ideals of the campaign.”