Democratic convention will be a far cry from the enthusiasm of 2008
From 2008's hope to 2012's history
By Celeste Katz / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Saturday, September 1, 2012, 8:31 PM
Four years ago, Barack Obama stood before a crowd of 84,000 people in Denver and unleashed a blistering assault on “the broken politics of Washington.”
This week, he’ll try to convince the country that his presidency has turned that all around — and that he can do even more if he wins another term.
It won’t be a cakewalk. And this week’s gathering in Charlotte, N.C., will be a very different convention.
Back then, Obama was untested, but he was a rock star to his followers. As the first African-American to lead a major party ticket into November, he was a living banner. His message of change resonated deeply with young voters, spurring thousands to throw themselves into his battle for the White House.
But many of those who sent Obama to the Oval Office are now looking again for inspiration — and also for jobs. Voters who went to the polls carrying the memory of their candidate quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a man of peace, wonder why the nation remains at war.
And those who thought Obama was too liberal, too ready to rebuild a system emphasizing entitlements over enterprise, rallied to help Mitt Romney and the Republicans raise more than the President and his party three months in a row.
Support for the President remains strong; he outraised Romney in the runup to the conventions by $9 million. But the tone of Charlotte will be much different from the mood of Denver.
Where Obama in 2008 had hope, now he’s got history.
“The entire campaign is very different, and by extension, so is the convention. (It’s) a little bit like renewing one’s marriage vows — important and special, but it does not necessarily have the magic of the first time,” says Democratic strategist Chris Lehane.
“The 2008 convention was a historical moment and, appropriately so, aspirational in nature, whereas 2012 is about the reelection of an incumbent and so, by its very definition, a compare-and-contrast convention when it comes to laying out the case for four more years.”
Last time around, John McCain and his party campaigned heavily on national security issues, painting the voters’ choice as one between a combat veteran and an ambitious but green politician simply unprepared to be a wartime commander-in-chief.
In his Denver address, Obama pushed back hard, going after Republicans’ emphasis on Iraq over Afghanistan: “John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow Bin Laden to the gates of hell — but he won’t even go into the cave where he lives.”
Now, Obama comes into Charlotte — and November — as the leader who ordered the raid that ended in Osama Bin Laden’s demise.
But Obama’s rivals have turned their focus to domestic issues: Republicans have heavily focused on the economy, an area where Obama’s going to have to work hard to sell an image of success.
In July, the unemployment rate rose in historical battleground states including Pennsylvania and Florida, where the Republicans just finished their convention, and remained unchanged in the electoral prize of Ohio. Nationally, employers added 163,000 jobs, but the unemployment rate was 8.3%.
As the GOP tries to frame Romney as the experienced choice on the economy — with a track record in the private sector as well as government — Obama and the Democrats are tasked with chipping away at the base of that argument in an attempt to topple it.
“Given the dynamics of the election, the Obama campaign wants to use this convention to continue to raise basic issues of trust vis-a-vis Romney on economic issues,” Lehane said. “The convention will focus on continuing to hammer the Obama campaign frame that has been in place since the early spring: You can trust Obama, and you can’t trust ‘Mr. 13%,’ ” referring to the at least 13% in taxes Romney has said he has paid for the past decade.
In raising the trust issue, the President will have to walk a line between coming across as a forceful, considered critic of Romney’s record and theme without undermining the uplifting, inclusive “Yes, We Can” spirit that got him into office in the first place.
“He does have to make the case for himself because this is shaping up as a base election — he has to generate enthusiasm among the rank and file. People are not happy with various aspects of what he’s done, and he has to convince them they have to put aside their differences, otherwise they’re going to have four years of a Republican President,” says Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
“He should just stick to the issues. There is plenty of ammunition that Romney has provided,” West says. “He can leave the dirty work to surrogates.”
Incumbency, of course, has its privileges: In 2008, Obama took the stage after a bitter primary fight with Hillary Clinton that left the party battered and divided.
Now Obama’s “in charge, so there are no platform fights and no delegate issues,” West says. “The convention is a platform to make the case against Mitt Romney, and everybody’s going to be on the same page.”
Instead of working to mend fences with Clinton’s disappointed supporters, this time Team Obama will seek to rally the faithful through the words of former President Bill Clinton, who remains one of the party’s most beloved figures.
The former President’s address should serve to energize the base for Obama, reminding them of years with more prosperity and less war, says veteran consultant Hank Sheinkopf.
But things are simply different now: Obama’s convention takes place in a state calculated by many to be a tossup, and he’s a man seeking to get reelected, not make history.
“Are we going to see youth sleeping on the streets or hanging out and trying to feel the energy that existed four years ago? Probably not,” Sheinkopf says.
“Now that (Obama’s) the President, it’s no longer a convention about youthfulness and hope and change. The whole theme is different. There’s just not the same kind of excitement.”