For someone as animated and intelligent and accustomed to the public eye as Hillary Clinton, the television camera is not especially kind to her. It wasn't on Monday night at the Democratic convention during the biggest speech of her life.
This cool medium of TV makes her seem almost chilly and clumsy. That's true even when she lights up the roomful of people to whom she is talking, as she certainly succeeded in doing at Staples Center and as I've often seen her in campaigning for Senate before groups far less adoring.
Although she rushed and stepped on her best lines Monday, Clinton was not flat-out awful. And maybe not enough New Yorkers saw the speech to make a difference. But the extra exposure she got in prime time — because it was delivered later than scheduled — couldn't have helped her much with those who are undecided or leaning against her.
What's fortunate for Clinton is that she has benefitted from a surge of enthusiasm for the party since the selection of Joe Lieberman as Al Gore's running mate and the improvement in the image of Democrats in general. The convention has focused a lot of people on the differences between the two parties on issues they care about.
In a state as Democratic as New York, simply securing the party base is almost enough to win an election. Almost. But going into the convention, Clinton was not doing as well as she needed among women and Jews, especially in the suburbs. Worse, she had not even fully energized the party workers whose job it is to sell her to skeptical friends and neighbors. Although mostly in private, the grousing about her campaign among Democrats around the state — mostly about its perceived lack of a clear message — was not helping. The sales force she needs most were not entirely persuaded about the product themselves.
Now they are, or at least most of them.
Some smart, influential Democrats still aren't happy with her efforts. They don't believe she has improved enough yet to beat Republican Rick Lazio.
But most of the delegates and state officials I talked to think she has turned a corner, one breakfast or caucus at a time. Whether it's adding luster to a luncheon for women candidates or black and Latino officials, or staying at a New York delegation dinner until everyone who wanted to shake her hand and have their picture taken with her got the chance, she has convinced the soldiers to go out and fight.
Even before the convention, the campaign had picked up steam with a strategy of winning over small numbers of voters. Part of this involves Clinton meeting with bite-sized groups — from rabbis in Great Neck, to elected village officials in Nassau, to women's health-care providers in Westchester. Some are private sessions, and in these settings she has been able to have frank exchanges about her ideas and image.
Then again, the more they keep her off camera, the better the chances to show her at her smart and charming best.