Oh, the benefits of going second. It’s not hard to imagine, after the Republican Convention last week in Tampa, Democratic leaders huddling somewhere to rewrite speeches, redo videos and shift the lineup to more effectively respond to the various charges and claims made by their opponents. I’m here to tell you that, whatever they did, it worked. Besides putting on a very entertaining show, the Democratic National Committee effectively made the case for President Obama’s re-election while, at the same time, energizing their base. My prediction is that the President gets a 7-9 point bump out of this, but we’ll see once the new polls come out.
Before I get to the winners and losers of the convention, I want to share the best moment to come out of either event, by far. On January 8, 2011, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords held an event in Tucson, Arizona. Her “Congress on Your Corner” events were a great way for constituents to meet their Representative and have their voices heard. On this particular day, however, the meeting ended in tragedy with six people (including a 9 year old girl) dead and Giffords critically wounded. As anyone who has ever had or cared for someone with a serious brain injury knows, the path to recovery is long and extremely challenging. She has made very few public appearances since the shooting and none have had the power and emotion of what she did last night. Just watch.
Sure beats an empty chair as a lead-in to the party nominee! Ok, without further ado, here are my winners and losers from the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
- Bill Clinton
President Clinton has been delivering speeches for many many years and he is a master storyteller. When Clinton takes the stage, people listen and hang on every word. Love him or hate him, you have to admire his ability to captivate an audience and deliver key messages in an engaging and exciting way. The speech he gave on Wednesday night, nominating President Obama was, in my humble opinion, one of the best he has ever given. He was forceful, he was funny and he left no doubt about how he has seen the past 4 years and why he believes Barack Obama should be re-elected. As CNN Republican strategist Alex Castellanos said following the speech, “If Barack Obama gets re-elected, I think tonight will be a good reason why.” Hard to do better than that.
- Barack Obama
Watching the Republican Convention, one couldn’t help but wonder how much the party elite is really excited about the prospect of a President Romney. Many of the speakers seemed to be more focused on building themselves up for a future run, rather than making the case for Romney. By contrast, the Democrats are clearly excited about their ticket and that passion shone through in speech after speech. In addition, I thought Obama’s speech was very impressive. I left his speech thinking that this is a serious guy who has learned from his mistakes, but whose commitment to doing what he believes is right hasn’t wavered. I really liked the reframing of the “hope and change” arguement from 4 years ago and found it quite effective. Was it a soaring speech that Obama 2004 or Clinton 2012? No. But I don’t think it needed to be or, quite frankly, should have been. He needed to let the others do that, and come across as a leader we can trust. Which I think he did.
The other thing about the convention is President Obama came across as much tougher and stronger than I have seen before. We heard from Vice-President Biden about how he goes about making decisions and what a strong character he has. Biden told us that Obama “has courage in his soul, compassion in his heart, and a spine of steel” and we saw that in Obama’s speech. All of those traits were there and, when combined with his messages, Obama very much came across as someone who we can trust to work for all Americans and continue to make a difference.
- Deval Patrick, John Kerry, Jennifer Granholm
Aside from Clinton and Obama, these three leaders delivered the best speeches of the convention. Each focused on different issues, but all three were extremely effective in their defense of the President and convincing in their support for him. All three are going to play a critical role in the campaign between now and November 6 and all three delivered stirring and memorable speeches. Patrick (Romney’s record in Massachusetts), Kerry (Foreign Policy) and Granholm (Auto bailout) all made the point that Americans are better off today because of the leadership of President Obama and all made the the point that Governor Romney would be the wrong choice.
- Michelle Obama
Wow. Just, wow. Michelle Obama delivered an incredible speech that was beyond a simple endorsement of her husband. She told us more about the man, what drives him and, most importantly, connected his ideas and beliefs to their family and the future they imagine for their daughters. It was powerful, it was compelling, it was funny and it was effective.
- George W. Bush
It’s clear that Obama’s team see winning Michigan and Ohio as crucial to their chances in November. That’s why they focused so heavily on the Auto bailout and how many jobs that effort saved. What no one mentioned, however, is that President Bush was the one who first began to lay the groundwork for the bailout and, in fact, authorized the first loan to Detroit. The fact is that the bailout worked, but the facts are, also, that Bush deserves some of the credit.
- Martin O’Malley
The Governor of Maryland is often mentioned as a potential 2016 Presidential candidate. However, he did not do himself any favors with his convention speech. The Republicans want to make this election a referendum on the past 4 years and, as such, are making the argument that Americans are worse off than they were when President Obama took office. Leading into this convention, the Democrats had primarily tried to counter that argument by attempting to make the election a choice election – that is, putting the Obama/Biden plan alongside the Romney/Ryan plan and asking Americans which one works best for them. However, in Charlotte, there was a much more forceful argument that we are, in fact, better off than we were 4 years ago. It’s important because if they can defend both their record and promote their future plans effectively, there is no way Romney can win.
However, in a pre-convention interview on Face the Nation, Governor O’Malley undercut that message when asked by host Bob Schieffer if he could ” honestly say that people are better off today than they were four years ago?” In response, O’Malley said “No, but that’s not the question of this election. The question, without a doubt, we are not as well off as we were before George Bush brought us the Bush job losses, the Bush recession, the Bush deficits, the series of desert wars — charged for the first time to credit cards, the national credit cards.” It may have been honest and it may have been an attempt to link Romney to Bush. But, as a result, O’Malley had to spend the convention backtracking and that’s not a position a 2016 candidate wants to be in.
- Charlie Crist
Party changers are rarely well received at conventions, but Crist’s speech was embarrassingly bad. It was such a transparent attempt to further his own political ambitions and those in the hall saw right through it. I have no idea if Crist will help Obama win Florida by appealing to moderates but his speech last night didn’t do the President any favors. As bad as Artur Davis was last week at the RNC, Crist was worse because he was clearly only speaking to help set himself up for a Gubernatorial run as a Democrat. Not good. Not good at all.
- Platform Committee
The party platforms are rarely read and the news media, generally, only spends time talking about them if there is something controversial or different. The fact that the RNC platform is anti-abortion, with no exceptions, was newsworthy and will become an issue in the campaign. The Democrats made the decision to not mention God, and to not endorse Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Then, after some backlash from both inside and outside the party, the committee made the decision to add that back in. This resulted in some awkward moments where, when the change was announced, there was scattered booing in the hall. Likely the delegates were booing the fact that a change was being made, but it gave the appearance (as hyped up on Fox) that they were booing God. Whatever the truth, it was not a good image for the party.
Before I let you go (and kudos if you’ve read this all the way through) I want to leave you with two videos. I think it is ENORMOUSLY important that all Americans, regardless of where you may stand, see the speeches from both Presidential candidates. Please set aside some time to watch – it’s important to know where they stand and what their vision is for the country.