Democratic convention Obama's last big chance
The Democratic convention, which will take place in North Carolina for three days starting Tuesday, presents Obama with his best, biggest chance to rally his base and convince independent and undecided voters to stand behind him on election day.
Last week in Tampa, Florida, Mitt Romney accepted his party’s nomination for the White House in the wake of some stormy weather and at least one highly unusual speech (Clint Eastwood, sharing the spotlight with an empty chair).
Now, it is the president’s turn.
For three days starting Tuesday, Democrats will swarm Charlotte, North Carolina, where Barack Obama will make his case for a second term. With only two months before election day, the convention presents Obama with the biggest, splashiest, most highly publicised occasion to rally his base (women, minorities, labour unions, young Americans and those with college degrees) and convince independents and undecided voters to stand behind him.
The challenge for the president is not only to portray his first four years in a positive light, but also to try to recapture some of the excitement that marked the 2008 Democratic convention and ultimately carried him to victory.
Big names, diversity in speaker line-up
Several party heavyweights are scheduled to take the stage in an effort to rouse Democrats widely seen as less enthusiastic today than four years ago. Two of the left’s most popular figures, First Lady Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton, will speak on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
Meanwhile, the keynote speaker will be Mexican-American Julian Castro, the 37-year-old mayor of San Antonio, Texas. The selection of Castro for the highly-coveted convention slot (held by Obama himself in 2004) indicates the party’s determination to highlight diversity and fresh faces poised for Democratic stardom; a handful of young politicians of colour, including Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and Anthony Foxx, mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, will also have prime speaking spots at the convention.
Thursday night will feature speeches by Vice President Joe Biden and Obama himself. In 2008, Obama delivered a rapturously received address at the Denver convention, against a backdrop of Greek columns and fireworks. Though a 25-foot sand sculpture of the president will be on display at this year’s convention, Obama’s speech at the open-air Bank of America Stadium will likely be a less visually extravagant affair.
A tricky economic message
Obama will have to walk a delicate line when it comes to the economy. With sluggish jobs numbers and unemployment hovering stubbornly above 8%, the president cannot paint a rosy picture of the recovery. But he will be able to point to the 2.8 million jobs added over the last 18 months of his presidency, as well as his bailout of the auto industry and an initial stimulus package that many experts say pulled the US economy back from the brink.
The president will likely try to defend his legacy by conveying that he inherited a disastrous situation, that his economic policies moved the country in the right direction, and that he needs more time to continue on that path. It has been reported that Obama is worried that if he loses, Romney will end up taking credit for an economic turnaround that will inevitably accelerate in the next four years.
Unluckily for Obama, a monthly jobs report predicted to show minimal improvement will be released on Friday, one day after the end of the convention. If Obama’s economic argument is forceful and persuasive, disappointing numbers could go down easier.
“Obama has to acknowledge the economy is weak, but argue that his policies are more likely than Romney's to help the middle class,” Darrell West, an analyst at centre-left public policy think tank The Brookings Institution, told FRANCE 24. “The president's strength is that voters believe he cares more about them than Romney does.”
Hitting back at Romney
Coming on the heels of the Republican convention, the Democratic convention allows the party to counter arguments put forth by Romney and his allies last week – notably, that Obama had his chance, failed, and deserves to be replaced. The president’s attack ad campaign portraying Romney as an out-of-touch executive who lined his pockets at the expense of American workers was seen as effective, and the message is likely to be reiterated this week.
Obama and other speakers will also emphasise Romney’s anti-abortion views, his opposition to same-sex marriage, his vow to repeal Obama’s healthcare reform, and his tough stance on immigration. In other words, Democrats will argue that Romney is dangerously conservative on issues of importance to women, young Americans, gay people, the poor, minorities, immigrants and other constituencies that make up Obama’s network of support.
Still, when Obama takes the stage, he cannot afford to strike too negative a tone. “He has to point out the substantive differences with Romney, but not do so in a mean-spirited manner,” West explained. “He cannot do anything that undermines his likeability advantage over Romney.”
With polls showing Obama and Romney locked in a tight race, a triumphantly staged convention could potentially allow the president to pull ahead. Most pundits predict, however, that the 2012 election will be a cliff-hanger. “The race remains tied and looks like it will stay that way throughout the fall,” West concluded.