CLEVELAND (AP) – In the swirl of balloons and cheers of the masses, Donald Trump finally had his Rocky moment after a rocky convention, and now Democrats are eager to step up for their own spectacle. Hillary Clinton is set to snatch attention from Republicans by naming her running mate in advance of the Democratic convention, with Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine the leading contender.
Trump’s forceful promises to be the champion of disaffected Americans closed out his convention on a high note for the party, not a moment too soon after shows of disharmony and assorted flubs before Thursday night’s closer.
Speaking to “the forgotten men and women of our country,” the people who “work hard but no longer have a voice,” he declared: “I am your voice.” With that, he summed up both the paradox and the power of his campaign – a billionaire who made common cause with struggling Americans alienated from the system, or at least a portion of them.
He pledged as president to restore a sense of public safety, strictly curb immigration and save the nation from Clinton’s record of “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.”
“I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves,” Trump said.
Clinton opens a two-day campaign swing Friday in Florida and is expected to announce her running mate either at a Friday afternoon rally at the state fairgrounds in Tampa or on Saturday at Florida International University in Miami.
Kaine, 58, appeared to be the favorite for her choice, according to two Democrats, who both cautioned that Clinton has not made a decision and could change direction.
In Cleveland, Trump’s acceptance of the Republican nomination capped his improbable takeover of the GOP, a party that plunges into the general election united in opposition to Clinton but still torn over Trump. Underscoring his unorthodox candidacy, Trump reasserted the hard-line immigration policies that fired up conservatives in the primary but broke with many in his party by promising protections for gays and lesbians.
Ever the showman, he fed off the energy of the crowd, stepping back to soak in applause and joining the delegates as they chanted, “U-S-A.”
It was an altogether smoother – and scripted – chapter in a footloose convention shocked a night earlier by Ted Cruz’s prime-time speech, a pointed non-endorsement of the nominee by the Texas senator who finished second in the race and came to Cleveland harboring grievances – and future presidential ambitions.
During their convention, Republicans were relentless and often raw in demonizing Clinton. As fired-up supporters at Trump’s acceptance speech broke out in their oft-used refrain of “Lock her up,” the nominee waved them off, and instead declared, “Let’s defeat her in November.” Yet he also accused her of “terrible, terrible crimes.”
Trump’s more than hour-long speech was strikingly dark for a celebratory event and almost entirely lacking in policy details. Trump shouted throughout as he read off a teleprompter, showing few flashes of humor or even a smile.
“This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction, terrorism and weakness,” he said. “But Hillary Clinton’s legacy does not have to be America’s legacy.”
In a direct appeal to Americans shaken by a summer of violence at home and around the world, Trump promised that if he takes office in January, “safety will be restored.”
He also said young people in predominantly black cities “have as much of a right to live out their dreams as any other child in America.” And he vowed to protect gays and lesbians from violence and oppression, a pledge that was greeted with applause from the crowd.
“As a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said,” he responded.
The Democratic convention in Philadelphia, which starts Monday, is expected to be a more disciplined affair. Clinton is, if anything, disciplined.
Kaine has been active in the Senate on foreign relations and military affairs and built a reputation for working with both parties as Virginia’s governor and mayor of Richmond.
“I’m glad the waiting game is nearly over,” Kaine said Thursday .
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a longtime friend of Hillary and Bill Clinton, is still in the mix, according to one of the two Democrats. Both Democrats are familiar with the selection process and spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
Kaine’s selection would not be without complication. Liberals have expressed wariness of Kaine for his support of putting the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement on a “fast track” to approval, which both Clinton and primary rival Bernie Sanders oppose. They also note that Kaine recently signed onto a letter asking for less burdensome regulation of regional banks.
But President Barack Obama has told the campaign he believes Kaine would be a strong choice, according to a Democrat familiar with the search who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.