Philadelphia – Hillary Clinton supporters rewrote the history books Tuesday at the Democratic National Convention, officially making the former secretary of state the first American woman to be nominated for president by a major political party.
Clinton’s achievement came 32 years after New York U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro became the first female vice presidential candidate in U.S. history. Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale chose her as his running mate in 1984 in his unsuccessful bid to replace President Ronald Reagan.
The former first lady’s campaign hoped to use the milestone to improve the popularity of a candidate who has high negative poll ratings from voters – but not as negative as the marks for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Former President Bill Clinton and other speakers were set to offer testimonials to her career highlights and advocacy, hoping to soften her image.
“We’re seeing history,” U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield said as she and other Michigan delegates huddled and watched as each state announced its final delegate counts. “She has a better resume than anyone — period. I’m excited.”
Michigan delegates gathered inside the Wells Fargo Center here hoisted signs recognizing the importance of the moment. “Glass Ceiling Shattered,” read one. “Give ’em Hill,” read another.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing announced Michigan’s delegate tally – 81 votes for Clinton and 66 for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders – “on behalf of the hard-working men and women of the Great Lakes State, who make things and grow things for America and who created the middle class of this country.”
Stabenow, Michigan's first female U.S. senator, said reading the state’s roll call vote was “very meaningful.”
“I felt even more emotional than I thought I would,” said Stabenow, her eyes teary. “This really is history. I can tell my granddaughter Lilly not only that she can be whatever she wants to be, I've already told her that, but because she can see it.”
Sanders narrowly defeated Clinton in Michigan’s March 8 primary, but she won more state delegates on Tuesday because of support from superdelegates – a group of mostly elected officials who have convention voting rights under longstanding party rules that may change in future elections.
“Those folks at this point are free to vote the way they want to, and with Bernie giving such a full-throated endorsement of Hillary, it makes it easier for those folks to do so,” said Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon.
After Clinton won a majority of convention delegates, Sanders moved to make her nomination unanimous in the party’s record books to loud applause. Presiding chair Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio called for the yays and nays, but quickly talked over the “no” votes as she declared Clinton the party’s unanimous nominee.
The self-proclaimed democratic socialist endorsed Clinton but has encouraged his supporters to continue fighting for the “political revolution” and policies he championed during an unexpectedly competitive race to the nomination. Prior to Sanders’ motion, some Sanders delegate holdouts still held up “fraud” signs to protest a process they believe unfairly benefited Clinton.
Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones said she never thought she would live to see the day of an African-American president, and “I never thought I’d see a woman.”
Clinton’s milestone follows women such as Lenora Fulani of the New Alliance Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party, who have run for president from minor political parties but never won any electoral votes.
Clinton also won more pledged delegates than Sanders in state-level primaries and caucuses across the country, meaning super delegates did not determine the nominee. But Sanders’ supporters argue the announced support of super delegates gave her early momentum and shaped the race in her favor.
“It feels like a bit of a slap in the face – like the party doesn’t really support the grassroots,” said Amy Cohn, a Sanders delegate from Grand Rapids.
Sanders received raucous applause each time a state he won announced its delegate count.
Charles Hall, a Clinton delegate from Southfield, said he can appreciate the enthusiasm of Sanders’ backers, but the former New York U.S. senator is the most qualified candidate.
“The reality is we need to unify to defeat Donald Trump,” said Hall of the United Auto Workers union.
The convention’s rules committee on Saturday approved a “unity” resolution to create a new commission to minimize super delegates in future Democratic primaries.
Under a proposal that did not apply to this year’s convention, roughly two-thirds of all super delegates would be required to vote in accordance with the outcome of their state’s primary or caucus.
“I think there is general agreement that the super delegate process needs to be reformed, and that’s what we’re going to do moving forward,” Dillon said.
Clinton’s nomination caps a prolonged primary season that saw Sanders blow by initial expectations and stay in the race right up to the convention. It is the second time in a row the Democratic party has blazed a new trail with its nomination, following the nomination in 2008 of then-Illinois U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, the first African-American to head a major political party’s race for the White House.
Shauna Diggs of Grosse Pointe said Clinton’s nomination set an important precedent for her daughters, ages 15 and 19.
“They had an opportunity to see the first African-American president and now have a chance to see a woman run from a major party for president,” she said. “It really just makes it seem like things can be limitless – their lives can be limitless.”