- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2016

PHILADELPHIA — As President Obama prepares to address Democrats in the forum that first brought him to the nation’s attention, he is leaving behind a mix of praise and bitterness for his presidency and rising concern among liberals that Hillary Clinton can’t capture their hearts like he once did.

Mr. Obama’s speech Wednesday night to the Democratic National Convention is evoking some nostalgia for the fiery young state senator who broke into the national spotlight with his famous “red state, blue state” speech at the 2004 convention in Boston.

But exactly 12 years later, the graying, battle-scarred president will come to the podium facing a divided party, a nation torn over police violence and voters worried about renewed Islamic terrorist attacks.

With resentment still simmering among supporters of Sen. Bernard Sanders over Mrs. Clinton’s pending nomination, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Mr. Obama wants to remind Democrats that “the choice for voters could not be starker” between Mrs. Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

“The president has been candid about why he thinks electing the Republican nominee is a risky path for the United States,” Mr. Schultz said, but the speech “will much more focus on how Secretary Clinton has the judgment, the toughness and the intellect to succeed him in the Oval Office.”

Mr. Obama also intends to take a victory lap, calling attention to what he views as his accomplishments, including an economic recovery and a foreign policy focused more on diplomacy.

Sanders supporters, especially, seem less willing than other Democrats to buy into nostalgia as Mr. Obama closes out his tenure.

Asked about Mr. Obama’s legacy, Sanders delegate Tonya Bah of Philadelphia warned a reporter that her answer would probably include profanity.

“This is not about a person,” she said. “Bernie Sanders has awakened the sleeping giant. We pay taxes, and it’s like the elected officials are f——— celebrities around here. They f——— work for us.”

Amanda McIllmurray, 23, another Sanders delegate from Pennsylvania, said she feels “iffy” about Mr. Obama’s presidency.

“He’s deported more people than any other president in the history of the United States while purporting to be an ally and advocate for Latino people, which clearly isn’t true,” she said. “He’s done a lot of crappy stuff, but overall he’s going to leave a good mark on history.”

Some Democrats say Mr. Obama has done a good job against nearly insurmountable challenges. Kelli Prather, a Cincinnati City Council candidate, called him “one of the best presidents we’ve ever had.”

“Unfortunately with some of the key issues that the African-American community was hoping for, he was met with so much opposition that it was really difficult for him,” she said. “He went in with the right intentions and very high hopes.”

As for Mrs. Clinton, she said, “I’m trying to be optimistic. I’m praying for the best and expecting the worst.”

Some Democratic delegates say party leaders are focusing on a tactic of scaring voters away from Mr. Trump rather than emphasizing Mrs. Clinton’s qualifications.

“She doesn’t appeal to the left whatsoever,” said Ms. McIllmurray. “I think a lot of people will end up voting for her out of fear of a Trump presidency, not out of having faith in her as a candidate. We even see that in the speeches at the convention. It’s not about Hillary’s qualifications; it’s about what a Trump presidency could mean.”

Josh Shapiro, the Democratic candidate for attorney general in Pennsylvania, said it comes down to a simple choice.

“Joe Biden has said, ‘Don’t compare me to the almighty; compare me to the alternative,’” Mr. Shapiro said. “I think progressives will have a far stronger voice in Hillary Clinton than they will in Donald Trump.”

When Mr. Shapiro first met Mr. Obama, he was a state representative in the Philadelphia suburb of Montgomery County. He became the first elected official in Pennsylvania to endorse Mr. Obama for president.

“When I think back to the speech he gave when I met him in 2006, he talked about fairness,” Mr. Shapiro said. “He talked about trying to bridge some of the divide in our country. I think when you look back by any measure, he’s accomplished that.”

Mr. Shapiro acknowledged that Americans “still have issues with wage inequality.” But he said Mr. Obama “has helped bring up wages; he brought back jobs.”

“He’s been a voice to try and bridge the gap that’s divided people nationally and internationally, and I think he’s had a tremendous presidency,” he said. “History will look very kindly on him. I think he, more so than anyone else, has the ability to articulate that for the country to understand as we head into this election.”

Mr. Obama told an interviewer last weekend that he believes he is “a better president than I’ve ever been.”

“The experience has made me sharper, clearer, about how to get stuff done,” Mr. Obama said. “My team is operating at a peak level. And we’re going to run through the tape.”

Sherrie Cohen, a Sanders delegate from Philadelphia, said the Republicans in Congress effectively stymied much of Mr. Obama’s agenda.

“He’s had a constant attack on him by the right wing,” she said. “He did bring our country out of the worst recession since the Depression. But I would like for him to have done more to end mass incarceration, to end racialized policing, to end the war on drugs, to end income inequality, to end poverty.”

Mike Masterson, a Democrat from Green River, Wyoming, said Republicans have “slammed” Mr. Obama’s agenda despite the economic recovery.

“If you’re a Republican, what has the stock market done?” he asked. “Has it gone up?”

His wife, Cathy Denman, said she believes Mr. Obama “has worked extremely hard to try to get across party lines.”

“He’s been a gentleman, he’s intelligent, he’s a heck of a speechwriter,” she said. “I have been totally happy with him, and I really don’t care for the way he’s been treated by the House or the Senate.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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