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Michigan Lawmaker Offers Her Views On The Democratic Convention


And I'm David Greene in Philadelphia, site of the Democratic National Convention that begins tonight. And I'm in the studio with Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee of Georgetown University and also my colleague Don Gonyea, NPR national political correspondent. Hey, guys.



GREENE: just thinking about what Hillary Clinton needs to accomplish this week - I mean, we'll be hearing from her on Thursday and many people speaking for her during the course of this week. One thing we hear about so often is her struggles to connect with white, working-class Americans, particularly men. Mo, how serious a problem is that for her?

ELLEITHEE: You know, look, it's a growing problem for the party. As the Democratic Party's strength solidifies amongst other populations, sort of the emerging new American electorate continues to struggle here. Hillary, though, actually has a good personal story to connect her to - to white, working-class America. She comes from white, working-class America. She grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. She talks often about her father and her upbringing and her family. And it is a very relatable background, a very relatable story. I would hope to hear a little bit about that this week.

GREENE: Relatable, but people don't seem to relate to it in that much, I mean, according to polls.

ELLEITHEE: It's very funny. Her campaign has a saying that I think is absolutely true, having worked for her eight years ago. And that is, she is the most famous person in America that nobody really knows. Everyone thinks they know Hillary Clinton. But for a lot of reasons, some of which are entirely self-inflicted, they haven't heard her personal story in a very real way. She hasn't really opened up, in a way, or they haven't seen that side of her. So I would hope that she leans into it a little bit this week to help people understand that she - that she knows a little something about what it's like to grow up in working-class America, what it's like to face some of those challenges.

GREENE: Don Gonyea, you talk to so many voters, many of them working class and in different parts of the country. I mean, is it - is it something Hillary Clinton is not doing effectively in not helping people relate to her, or is it more about, you know, who a lot of these voters are, their experiences and the type of work they do? I mean, what's going on?

GONYEA: I've been talking to working-class, white men in places around Pittsburgh, Canton, Ohio, Warren, Ohio, steel country there in northeastern Ohio and in Michigan in the suburbs in the ring around Detroit. And the trust question comes up all the time. I mean, first, they love what they're hearing from Donald Trump on trade and on NAFTA and on TPP. They don't necessarily buy into it as something he's going to be able to actually pull off, but they love hearing that kind of language. And they don't think she has been tough enough on that area. And you hear that over and over and over.

GREENE: Well let me let me bring in a voice who, Don, I know you're very familiar with from your home state of Michigan. It's Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. Her district includes Dearborn, which is home to Ford Motor Company. She's on the line from the Wells Fargo Center, which is across town from where we are, near the Liberty Bell. Congresswoman, good morning to you.

DEBBIE DINGELL: Good morning. How are all of you this morning?

GREENE: Well, we're all doing well.


GREENE: How are things over there at the Wells Fargo Center? Are things gearing up for a convention?

DINGELL: It's wet, but they're gearing up. And it's day one, and people are excited.

GREENE: Yeah, the day began with some rain. But before we get to the top we were talking about, how - how important is this to you personally that you have a woman who's going to be nominated on a major party ticket?

DINGELL: You know, I'm supporting Hillary Clinton because she's the most qualified person for the job. I am excited because it shows that we are continuing to break down barriers that we have seen traditionally. But I do think it's important. I always vote for the person that is the most qualified for the job. And in this election, she is so much more qualified with all of the experience she has over Donald Trump. It's just a very easy, strong sell for me to go out and passionately fight for her.

GREENE: A strong sell you say, but you have a lot of auto workers and other working-class people in your district. I mean, why does Hillary Clinton struggle to connect with them?

DINGELL: You know, she - she's got to spend more time with them. People did not - you know that I was one of the only people that saw that Michigan was far tighter than people thought on the primary. But I've been living in those union halls that you're talking about. And, you know, when I heard Donald Trump last August in the fall talk about currency manipulation, I said, hooray, somebody's listening. People are understanding what we're talking about. But then Donald Trump comes to Michigan, and he doesn't like what a union worker says to him. And Donald Trump says, we're not going to build an auto plant in Michigan; we're going to go someplace where we pay lesser wages, and then they'll be so desperate they won't get paid - they won't care what they get paid per hour. And then they learned that Donald Trump isn't walking his talk and that he's manufacturing his clothes in China. And the more they learn about him - and they don't like the fact that he's trying to divide them with their brothers and sisters that they work with on the floor on faith. They - they become skeptical. So you've got to be talking to them. People like me have to talk to them - that they know and they trust. And I look forward to the senator and secretary spending far more time in Michigan in the next few months - and Ohio and Pennsylvania and other states with union workers.

GREENE: Well, Don Gonyea's right here next to me. He's going to spending a lot of time in places like his home state and your state.

GONYEA: I grew up in Monroe, in your district. Family is still there. I was talking to - to voters and union members in Garden City and in Dearborn. And - and - what I - what I was hearing, it's - it's not that they're not willing to give Secretary Clinton a shake but they feel that Donald Trump is - is at least speaking to them. And he's saying the kind of things that, in their gut, they've been waiting so long for somebody to say.

DINGELL: Don's absolutely right. I have to agree him. But they haven't seen her. And once she gets in there and once Tim Kaine comes and they hear - they hear both of them, they're going to know that this is somebody that's going to fight for working men and women.

GREENE: Are you telling her that? Are you saying...

DINGELL: Oh, trust me.

GREENE: ...Secretary Clinton, get here to Michigan.

DINGELL: How well do you know Debbie Dingell?


DINGELL: I warned them about the primary. But John Podesta has personally promised they're taking it seriously.

GREENE: Her campaign chairman, yeah. OK.

DINGELL: Yeah, her campaign chairman. They are taking it seriously. They want to make sure that I behave now (laughter). I mean, I say that as sort of a joke, but I was frustrated. I'm not frustrated. I'm talking to them, and they're listening. And they are going to make sure that people hear who she really is.

GREENE: All right, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell from Michigan, thank you so much for taking the time this morning.

DINGELL: Good to be with all of you.

GREENE: Mo Elleithee still here, and, Mo, just a couple seconds left, but one piece of news. I mean, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the DNC, steps down over these leaked emails suggesting that the party was favoring Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders through the process. You used to lead the message - the communications at the DNC. How serious is this?

ELLEITHEE: I think now that she's stepped down, it allows the party to turn a corner. I think it was the right move to step down. I think trust in her from across all corners of the party had eroded. This is a good thing.

GREENE: All right, Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee from Georgetown University and NPR's Don Gonyea. Thanks, guys.

GONYEA: Thank you.

ELLEITHEE: Thank you.

GREENE: We also heard from Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. The many voices - some of them we'll be hearing from Philadelphia this week as we cover the Democratic National Convention from member station WFYI. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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