Fair. Balanced. American.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

A few thoughts from Charlotte

1. The campaign was by no means in terrible shape as the week opened.  The briefings I attended by campaign officials reflected that, but it was also clear that some aspects of their enthusiasm reflected hope rather than the facts on the ground.

2. The President emerged from the GOP convention in pretty terrific shape: essentially tied, albeit still under 50% approval nationwide and in several battlegrounds.  There was no reason to think that Romney wouldn't be five points ahead at this stage; his inability to make the sale was nothing short of stunning.  Sarah Palin did a far better job of energizing independents and the party base in 2008 than Romney or Ryan did in Tampa.

3. As we shall write about repeatedly in the coming months, the Obama campaign has dozens of routes to victory in the electoral map.  Romney has only a few; most of which involve "running the table" of available purple states.   His 2-1 money advantage made this far from impossible; with the president still below 50% in most polling, just a week or two worth of bad news could make the difference.

4. The Obama campaign is operating on the assumption that in a close election, the race will hinge on changing the face of the electorate rather than targeting the very small universe of persuadable voters, who will most likely split or go for the challenger 2-1.  Hence a continued focus on organizing and registration, combined with paid and earned media to define Romney.

5. For all the enthusiasm, it seems to me that delegates came into this convention a bit subdued.  The three years of continuous hammering by partisan media and a mainstream news media that was allergic to policy had taken a toll even on Democratic partisans.  They were not sure what to expect, and it had been a long time since they had been inspired.

6. There are moments, in large gatherings of people, when something happens.  It's something more often seen in the entertainment world.  For example: the 1994 Academy Awards.  When Bruce Springsteen sang "Streets of Philadelphia," something palpable shifted in the audience, and the tenor of the entire evening changed. It didn't hurt, of course, that the films involved were "Philadelphia" and "Schindler's List."  But even so, the mood went from one of a certain jadedness to one where a wall broke down between the audience and the event it was a part of.   That happened Tuesday night during a film tribute to Ted Kennedy.  The montage of his speeches and accomplishments, so far ahead of their time and so many of which reached their culmination under this president, deeply stirred the audience.  The great senator was no longer present, but, even today, his memory did something to the audience. The evening, and the convention, would never be the same.

7. Just before the 10:00 hour came Lily Ledbetter, an American heroine, one who might find a place in children's history books within our lifetime.  She was a star at the Denver convention as well, but her story somehow only grows more compelling with time.  These simple fights for equality remain at the very core of Democratic activism.  That they were somehow connected to genuine accomplishments of this president served as something like tearing a scab off the opposite of a wound.  The delegates remembered why they were here, why they backed this president, what their activism was about: not just winning, but winning battles that mattered.

8. And that led into the 10:00 hour, the only one that was televised by all the networks.  Now, to be fair, the Dems wasted a huge chunk of the hour on Gov. O'Malley of Maryland, an uninspiring speaker who has already proven capable of veering catastrophically off message (something similar happened on Wednesday, when Costco's goodhearted CEO proved why not all business leaders could be successful politicians).  But that didn't matter.  San Antonio's Julian Castro's genial, good humored delivery masked the fact that he was delivering a pretty harsh indictment of the Romney/Ryan budget and the GOP's political priorities.   Emotional peaks of the speech: yes, his references to his Catholic grandmother, his mother and daughter.  But there was another, redolent of Jesse Jackson's great 1988 DNC speech, where Castro noted: "And my mother fought hard for civil rights, so that instead of a mop, I could hold this microphone."

9. The thing about the Democratic Party right now is that it's a party of historic cultural transformation, not in the womb of the future, as it was in 1984 and 1988, but at this very moment.  Gays, Latinos, women and African Americans are no longer being invited into a coalition where they don't really have a seat at the table. They are running this party. And all this has happened at a pace that no one even deemed possible.  Julian Castro may be mayor of San Antonio, but demographic shifts in Texas (now 38% Hispanic and only 45% white) as well as GOP fatigue mean that he has a real shot to be the Democratic governor of the president-producing state of Texas as soon as 2014.  That was not supposed to happen so early.

10. But huge as that shift is, there is one that has already happened. We have, right now, an African American president.  And it's easy to forget how utterly inconceivable that was just five years ago.   Michelle Obama's video began with a short montage that culminated with her signature, just her first name, across the screen.  At that very moment, the audience started cheering.  Even a jaded observer looking at the faces of many of the  delegates in the room would realize what a big deal this moment represents.  And for this convention to be happening in the South, well, that only makes it more historic.

11. Even the activists in the party had forgotten how utterly historic this President and this moment in American history is.  Monday night was a stark, almost overwhelming reminder. I don't know how much the President will have  excited independent voters this week.  We'll have a better idea of that in the hours and days ahead.  But it is hard for me to believe that he didn't engage his party base. That extra point or two of political participation could make the difference between winning and losing. And given the stakes, we have to hope so. 

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