Reviewing the DNC: Obama’s missed opportunity and the road ahead


The two national conventions for the Republicans and Democrats are over. Who had the better show and benefited the most form their rival performances? The simple answer is that Obama came out better, but it was because of him.

The RNC and DNC were theaters in contrast that bore powerful similarities. The RNC seemed less about Romney and more about its future stars Rubio, Christie, and Ryan. The best night for the RNC was Wednesday with the VP nominee Ryan speaking. Romney gave his best speech in a long time but it was still was far from a home run. He ended his speech with the Reaganesque challenger of asking if we are better off now than four yers ago, forcing Obama and the Democrats to have to respond to it.

Did Romney get a post-convention bump? All indications are that there was little bump. Polls suggested at most a one or so point bump. Perhaps this was due to the fact that so few watched the convention. Those who watched were the hardcore, those whose minds were probably already made up. It is doubtful the undecided watched since there was little news or theater here. In fact, surveys suggest less that 5% of the public is undecided at this point, again showing that there was little potential for much bump.

The DNC had two great nights. Ms. Obama and Mayor Castro were greater speakers for the president and for why the election mattered. Ms. Obama did what Ms. Romney failed to do–put a more human face on her husband. Castro rocked, clearly setting himself up for the future. It was like watching a young Obama again.

Night two was Bill Clinton. It was an amazing speech, even if long (as expected). He made the clearest case again Romney and the Republicans and also seemed to give credit to his wife and perhaps help position here for 2016 should she decide to run.

Obama thus entered the third night after two previous evenings of great performances. He merely needed to give his usual great speech to follow up and it would have been a hat trick for the DNC. Obama failed. The speech, in the words of Tom Brokaw, was “workmanlike.” It was competently given but uninspiring. Obama failed to do what he needed to do–to inspire and make the case for four more years. He and the other Democrats made the case for why the Republicans should not be given a chance, but like the GOP and Romney, the case for electing him was not given. Biden too was similarly flat.

Obama should thank Clinton, Castro, and his wife. Were it not for their strong performances the convention would not have helped him. There are some indications of a small post-convention bump and some signs that his approval rating went up. Whether this is real or merely temporary, and how the Friday unemployment numbers stunt the bump is yet to been seen.

Bottom line–the two conventions really did not change much. Romney still has a personalty problem and Obama has a problem making the case for four more years. Neither candidate is as inspiring as their future leaders seem to be, and both will get their bases out but not in an enthusiastic way. Both candidates need narratives and reasons for their candidacies. It is unlikely that either much moved swing voters.

Looking to the future, the DNC and RNC need to change to be relevant. No one watches and they are not interesting.

Looking to the future, the number of swing states is shrinking. Polls suggest Pennsylvania is out of reach for Romney and he seems to be pulling out his ads from there. Ohio seems to be solid for now for Obama and this is really the state where the presidential fight is all about. If we look at the approximately eight or so swing states in play, the two campaigns are looking to move a few million (maybe five million or less voters).

A Reagan Redux Election?
One thing is clear about this election–it is a tale of two Reagans. Romney is running Reagan’s 1980 campaign against Jimmy Carter–asking if we are better off now than four years ago.

Conversely, Obama is or needs to run Reagan’s 1984 campaign for re-election-declaring it’s morning in America. He needs to look to the future and convince the voters that he has turned things around and that the country is moving in the right direction. Given the cloudy economic news and uncertainty, this may be difficult to do. However, “Morning in America “ is certainly a better message than “Foreward.”