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Clinton Says Democrats Need To Create Opportunity For 'Working People'

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene in Philadelphia where the Democratic National Convention wrapped up last night. Hillary Clinton gave her formal acceptance speech. And one argument she made is that she has the experience and temperament to be commander in chief and Donald Trump does not. Here is one line from that speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

HILLARY CLINTON: Donald Trump says, and this is a quote, "I know more about ISIS than the generals do." No, Donald. You don't.

(APPLAUSE)

GREENE: And Hillary Clinton also had this line.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

CLINTON: So just ask yourself - do you really think Donald Trump has the temperament to be commander in chief?

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Booing).

CLINTON: Donald Trump can't even handle the rough and tumble of a presidential campaign.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: He loses his cool at the slightest provocation - when he's gotten a tough question from a reporter, when he's challenged in a debate, when he sees a protester at a rally. Imagine, if you dare, imagine, imagine him in the oval office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.

GREENE: And I am in the studio here in Philadelphia with Janet Hook who covers politics for The Wall Street Journal and our own Don Gonyea, NPR's national political correspondent. Good morning to you both.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

JANET HOOK: Good morning.

GREENE: So that got a wonderful reception inside a hall full of Democrats. The two of you have spent a lot of time with voters around this country. I mean, do people in this country trust Hillary Clinton to be commander in chief?

GONYEA: The numbers certainly show that she has high unfavorability ratings - 55 percent, if you look at the latest Real Clear Politics polling averages. Fifty-five percent of the people have a negative opinion of her. That is sky-high. That would be a record, except Donald Trump clicks in at 57 percent (laughter) so...

GREENE: This is overall likability, it's...

GONYEA: Overall likability. This is negative view of her. So in this speech last night, and in her campaign going forward, she wants, she needs - needs - people to kind of rethink who she is, rethink what they think of her. And as we hear in that cut, they want people to think for the first time who Donald Trump really is.

GREENE: And, Janet, did Hillary Clinton do anything to sort of give people a reason to think of her differently and think of her more favorably, especially when it comes to something like being president and having the nuclear codes, as she would say?

HOOK: Well, the focus on foreign policy is really what she wants to get away from the general likability question because it really distills two key messages she has which is that. I'm prepared, he's not. He's scary, I'm not. And on foreign policy, it really kind of gets to this - you know, it's interesting because foreign policy isn't often top-of-mind for voters. In this election, it's a little bit more focused on national security because of the terrorist threat and so forth.

But - and for Hillary Clinton, it plays to her strength that she actually does have this resume. How much do people care about resume? I don't know. But for her, it's key that she focus on, I'm prepared for the job whether you like me or not.

GREENE: One reason that she did focus on that so much last night. Let's turn to something else she focused on here. In that speech, Hillary Clinton seemed to bring up what's one of her biggest weaknesses this election year.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

CLINTON: Democrats, we are the party of working people.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: But we haven't done a good enough job showing we get what you're going through. And we're going to do something to help. So tonight, I want to tell you how we will empower Americans to live better lives. My primary mission as president will be to create more opportunity and more good jobs with rising wages right here in the United States...

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: ...From my first day in office to my last, especially in places that for too long have been left out and left behind, from our inner cities to our small towns, from Indian country to coal country...

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: ...From communities ravaged by addiction, to regions hollowed out by plant closures. And here's what I believe. I believe America thrives when the middle class thrives. I believe our economy isn't working the way it should because our democracy isn't working the way it should.

(APPLAUSE)

GREENE: You're listening to Hillary Clinton from last night. And I want to bring in another person who's sitting here at the table with us. It's Jim Davis. He's the Democratic Party chair in Fayette County, Pa. Jim, good morning.

JIM DAVIS: Good morning.

GREENE: You and I've gotten to know each other. You are from a county south of Pittsburgh, a once-thriving coal area. You described to me when I first met you a couple months ago that there is a landscape of little towns in your county that are in different levels of decay now with coal and steel no longer thriving. I feel like Hillary Clinton might have been trying to reach out directly to your community.

DAVIS: I hope so. I think she was, to a point. I don't think she could, in that address, articulate all the issues there and her solutions to the problems that we face. But I do think she was attempting to reach out to the people there.

GREENE: You and I spoke just before the Pennsylvania primary. And you, as Democratic Party chair, were seeing a lot of - a good number of Democratic voters change their registration to be able to vote for Donald Trump. You - I mean, you've sounded very worried as someone involved in this party that many people, many Democrats in your county could vote for Trump. Anything this week, anything last night that you think may have persuaded some of the working people in Fayette County to move towards Hillary Clinton at all?

DAVIS: Well, first and foremost, I hope that some of them were listening. I hope that some of the people that were leaning toward Donald Trump are Democrats that are in our area were listening because if they were, I think there was quite a few things that were said by not only Secretary Clinton but other speakers that do talk about and speak to the problems of our area and the solutions that may be available.

GREENE: Can you just remind us what Donald Trump's appeal is in a place like Fayette County?

DAVIS: I think it's a false bravado. He tells people what they want to hear. I'm going to bring back coal. I'm going to bring back steel. I'm there for you. I'm a tough guy. And I just think it's a false bravado. And I also think it's the fear mongering. And people - when you come into these economic hard times, if you will, that we've had for so long, you know, fear is a big factor. They're afraid. They're afraid they can't pay their mortgage. They're afraid that they can't pay their student debts. They're just - they're fearful.

GREENE: Let me play one more bit of Hillary Clinton last night. This was taking on what I think she knows is another weakness in her campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

CLINTON: The truth is, through all these years of public service, the service part has always come easier to me than the public part. I get it that some people just don't know what to make of me. So let me tell you. The family I'm from, well, no one had their name on big buildings. My family were builders of a different kind, builders in the way most American families are. They used whatever tools they had, whatever God gave them and whatever life that America provided and built better lives and better futures for their kids.

GREENE: Jim Davis, let me just ask you this. She's saying there that the service part of her career, you know, has always come easier than the public part. In terms of winning over some of the voters in your county, is it about specific solutions and policies which she says is her strength? How much of it, though, is about sort of that connection that she can make versus Donald Trump?

DAVIS: Well, you have to make the connection or they don't get the message. And that is - that's critical. I think she took steps and has been taking steps to make the connection. I don't know that she's gotten there yet. And I know that we in Fayette County, the Democrats, are going to do everything we can to help her make that connection. But - and she's got to continue to articulate. She's got to talk about increasing the minimum wage. She's got to talk about doing something to protect the coal miners when these large companies go bankrupt and discharge their pension liability.

She's got to talk about what we're going to do to the coal miner that's laid off and has been laid off. Can we find methods of clean coal energy? Can we do something to develop the infrastructure of the oil and gas industry, which is really - was doing so well and all of a sudden now it's just kind of fallen off. What can she do? What can the federal government do? And there are things that can be done. And she's got to articulate those.

GREENE: And let me just ask you briefly, Janet Hook and Don Gonyea, I mean, how big a problem is it, potentially, for Hillary Clinton if she cannot win over a count of voters in counties like Jim's?

GONYEA: She doesn't need to win them. She just needs to not lose as badly as she is right now. She's winning in other demographic, you know, categories. But she can't just get swamped with those voters.

HOOK: Well - and the main thing is, she's got to win Pennsylvania. Whatever coalition she needs to put together, Pennsylvania's one of those key states. Pennsylvania, Ohio - that's why, out of the convention, she's going on a bus tour straight into those states.

GREENE: OK. Sitting here with Jim Davis, who's the Democratic Party chair in Fayette County, Pa., south of Pittsburgh. Janet Hook covers national politics for The Wall Street Journal. Don Gonyea covers national politics for us at NPR. Listening to some of the highlights from Hillary Clinton's speech last night, and what they mean. Thank you all very much.

GONYEA: Thank you.

HOOK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.