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Can Obama ‘Reintroduce Hope’ At Convention?

Aired 9/4/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Jess Durfee, San Diego Democratic Party Chair

Carl Luna, political science professor, Mesa College


It's been a rough four years since Barack Obama accepted his party's nomination during a celebratory Denver convention that launched the freshman Illinois senator to the White House.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at Scott High School on September 3, 2012 ...
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Above: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at Scott High School on September 3, 2012 in Toledo, Ohio.

Recovery from the worst economy since the Great Depression has been excruciatingly slow. The national unemployment rate has remained stubbornly above 8 percent.

And partisanship has rendered Congress all but inoperable (and historically unpopular) under the nation's first African-American president, whose ephemeral message of hope and change has lost its resonance even among some of his most ardent supporters.

As Democrats convene this week in Charlotte, N.C., to nominate Obama, 51, for a second term, the president will have what political analyst David Gergen characterized Monday as "the most precious moment a political party gets" — a prime-time conversation with the American people as the campaign heads into its final weeks.

Obama comes into the convention in a dead heat race nationally with GOP nominee Mitt Romney, but with some advantages.

Unchallenged in the primary season, he's got slim leads in most of the handful of swing states that will decide the election. He can pivot off Romney's convention of last week, which is viewed by many as only a partial success that resulted in little, if any, poll movement.

And, unlike Romney, he doesn't have to make people like him, because they do — at least a lot more than they like Romney, according to polls.

Obama has to outline a "plausible scenario for why the country will be better off over the next four years" if he's given a second term, political analyst Charlie Cook said Monday. It's the question Republicans have been pointedly asking, and one that Obama's surrogates have fumbled answering in recent days.

Electoral Calculator: Click states to create your 2012 predictions.
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Above: Electoral Calculator: Click states to create your 2012 predictions.

The Obama campaign has already indicated it will focus on the middle class, and portraying Romney as rich and out of touch during the convention's three days.

But, as Cook says, there has to be more than that.

"He has to provide a convincing argument to reintroduce hope," Cook told us Monday. "They've got to at least have the hope in there for the second term."

Rebut Romney

Romney and the Republicans last week toned down their anti-Obama rhetoric, and, taking a page from the Karl Rove/Crossroads GPS focus group playbook, targeted their appeal to 2008 Obama voters who are now disillusioned.

But in many ways, the Romney show in Tampa, Fla., fell short, even if one ignores the bizarre Clint Eastwood conversation with an empty chair. It provided Obama an opening.

Here's how: Because the Obama campaign got the jump on defining Romney — who until April was still immersed in a bitter, ever rightward-moving primary campaign — the Republicans had to use their convention to erase the Democrats' branding, Gergen says.

They did a good job, he says, but Romney's speech was long on humanization and short on substance.

Now, Gergen says, Democrats can pivot to defining what Romney stands for, just as they early on defined his business record and hammered on his refusal to release many years of tax returns.

The Obama campaign got started Monday when, on the eve of the convention, it released an ad running in swing states that claims Romney's tax plan would raise taxes on the middle class, while providing big tax cuts for the rich.

Reinvigorate Voters

Obama's message also has to target young voters and Latinos, who polls show are less excited about voting this year than four years ago.

But what remains true is that Obama's sophisticated campaign operation, and Romney's inability to reach the "comfort and trust" threshold, have kept the president in the game, says Cook, the political analyst.

The economic forecasting firm IHS Global Insight has accurately predicted 14 of the past 16 presidential elections based on a formula of two economic indicators plus three political variables. The firm's current prediction, using July's economic data? Obama would lose, with 45 percent of the vote.

However, The Boston Globe this week quoted the head of IHS, Nigel Gault, as saying that other factors could play a role this year.

"Voters are not yet convinced the alternative to Obama is better," Gault told the Globe.

As NBC's Domenico Montanaro put it Monday at a poll briefing in Charlotte: It's an economy vs. likability election.

Romney's people may now be looking to the coming presidential debates to up their candidate's fortunes in that likability department. But his big shot for that came and went last week, Cook says.

"Debates are not the right venue for Romney to fix his problems."

Obama and his campaign no doubt agree, and are looking at the coming three days to fix their own problems: recapturing some spirit of hope; and answering the question of how Americans are better off now than four years ago, and how they will be better with him as president four years from now.

His challenge is to make the case that there was, and will be, more to his presidency than hope and change, and — as Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said derisively last week — "thrill and pixie dust."


Presidential Election Map

Midday Edition host Maureen Cavanaugh and producer Patty Lane contributed to this report.

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Avatar for user 'philosopher3000'

philosopher3000 | September 4, 2012 at 12:23 p.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago

Obama is batting .370 and has the potential to go .500! Home run!

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Avatar for user 'Willard'

Willard | September 4, 2012 at 2:58 p.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago

The paid Republican operatives have been strangely silent since their disastrous convention. Obama has delivered miraculous accomplishments ,especially considering ridiculous Republican obstruction at every turn.We need to take America forward not back.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | September 4, 2012 at 5:02 p.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago


Batting .370 on promises is abysmally bad. If you really want to turn this into a baseball metaphor, then Obama is batting worse than a minor-league one-eyed relief pitcher with narcolepsy.

Make a promise, keep a promise. Period.

In that respect, Obama has failed. Miserably.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | September 4, 2012 at 5:19 p.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago


Disastrous convention? What was so disastrous? Looked like a pretty average convention to me. But very few protestors, even considering the bad weather.

Contrast that with the large protests at the Democratic Convention right now. At some point Democrats will need to realize that America no longer has hope in Obama. He is now seen as part of the 1%, just another rich fat-cat catering to the needs of Wall Street and the bankers. I suppose that is why he held the convention at the home of Bank of America.

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | September 4, 2012 at 5:24 p.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago

Hope is not a method, but President Obama does appear to have more sincerity and character than Romney. I'm sure both want what they believe is best, but the GOP's problem is they leave no room for bipartisanship. Then again, the democrats don't have bragging rights either. I believe we should give President Obama another 4 years because he has worked best wth what he's got. Remember, he did take over a nation led by an unpopular George W for 8 years, is withdrawing troops on 2 fronts, took out the world's number 1 terrorist, and trying to keep congress together.

Are we better off than we were 4 years ago. I'm not spending as much, but saving and watching where my money goes more so than ever in my life. I'm working harder to prove myself on the job (I actually got promoted too!). I stressed the importance for my son to complete his eduction (which he did and recv'd his BA). And my wife and I are putting away more for retirement than ever before based on the importance of saving. So I guess we are better off than we were 4 years ago. Funny how it had to take the most difficult recession since the great depression for us to do things right.

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Avatar for user 'Willard'

Willard | September 4, 2012 at 6:31 p.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago

I've noticed CAD never seems to post any solutions not very surprising the GOP have none

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Avatar for user 'Willard'

Willard | September 4, 2012 at 6:35 p.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago

What has Obama Accomplished so far?
He Returned The Executive Branch To Fiscal Responsibility After the Bush Debacle 1. Within his first week, he signed an Executive Order ordering an audit of government contracts, and combating waste and abuse. 2. Created the post of Chief Performance Officer, whose job it is to make operations more efficient to save the federal government money.
3. On his first full day, he froze White House salaries. 4. He appointed the first Federal Chief Information Officer to oversee federal IT spending.
5. He committed to phasing out unnecessary and outdated weapons systems. To that end, he also signed the Democratic-sponsored Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act, which attempted to put a stop to waste, fraud and abuse in the defense procurement and contracting system. 6. Through an executive order, he created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

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Avatar for user 'Willard'

Willard | September 4, 2012 at 6:38 p.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago

He Improved the Economy, Preventing a Bush Depression
7. Pushed through and signed the Democratic-sponsored American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as “the stimulus package.” The bill passed, even though only three Republicans voted for it. In a major departure from the previous administration, he launched, a website that allows taxpayers to track spending from the Act. 8. The Bush-led Great Recession was costing the economy nearly 800,000 jobs per month by the time President Obama took office. But by the end of his first year, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act created and sustained 2.1 million jobs and stimulated the economy by 3.5%.
9. Not only did he completed the massive TARP financial and banking rescue plan, he also leaned on the banks and others, and recovered virtually all of the bail-out money.
10. He created the Making Home Affordable home refinancing plan. 11. Oversaw the creation of more jobs in 2010 alone than Bush did in eight years.

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Avatar for user 'Willard'

Willard | September 4, 2012 at 6:39 p.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago

12. Along with Democrats, and almost no Republicans, implemented an auto industry rescue plan, and saved as many as 1 million jobs. Many are of the opinion that he saved the entire auto industry, and even the economy of the entire Midwest. This resulted in GM returning to its place as the top car company in the world. Willard Romney, on the other hand, advocated for the entire industry to go belly-up.
13. Doubled funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which is designed to improve manufacturing efficiency.
14. Signed the Democratic-sponsored Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act giving the federal government more tools to investigate and prosecute fraud in every corner of the financial system, and create a bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission to investigate the financial fraud that led to the economic meltdown.
15. Signed the Democratic-sponsored Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act, which was designed to to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive credit card practices. 16. Increased infrastructure spending after years of neglect.
17. Signed the Democratic-sponsored and passed Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, expanding on the Making Home Affordable Program to help millions of Americans avoid preventable foreclosures. The bill also provided $2.2 billion to help combat homelessness, and to stabilize the housing market.
18. Through the Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009, he and Congressional Democrats provided tax credits to first-time home buyers, which helped the U.S. housing market recovery. 19. Initiated a $15 billion plan designed to encourage increased lending to small businesses.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | September 5, 2012 at 5:32 p.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago


Don't copy and paste old lists. Such a waste of pixels. And Don't call me a Republican. Perish the thought.

The vast majority of that pasty list is political chaff that is ineffective, wasteful, or flat out smoke and mirrors. Take the auto industry bailout which analysts now say $25 billion (and rising) is unrecoverable. And GM is not the "top car company in the world" as listed in #12. Volkswagen holds that title, BY FAR. In fact GM is down to #6 and falling. This is one snippet of the falsehoods being pumped out by the Obama campaign.

But still none of that matters.

The only thing that truly matters is THE NATIONAL DEBT:

Hope lost.

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Avatar for user 'astrofan'

astrofan | September 6, 2012 at 9:48 a.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago

"I've noticed CAD never seems to post any solutions not very surprising the GOP have none."

I didn't know we were supposed to post solutions on these threads. I thought we were commenting on the audios. Learn something everyday. Do we need to have them vetted by the GAO before posting?

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Avatar for user 'llk'

llk | September 6, 2012 at 12:36 p.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago

The national debt may be the only thing that truly matters to you, CAD, but it's probably not the top priority for, say, a recent college grad looking for work, or a middle-class family struggling to pay their mortgage and their hospital bills. Why not take it easy on the hyperbole.

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Avatar for user 'Willard'

Willard | September 7, 2012 at 1:24 p.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago

It's understandable how many claim to not be Republican, most all of their policies are wildly unpopular, in the right wing time-warp bubble, facts are irrelevant.
General Motors and its partners sold 9 million vehicles around the globe in 2011, the company announced Thursday, allowing it to reclaim the title of world’s top-selling automaker.
General Motors recaptures top spot for global auto sales
Less than two years after emerging from bankruptcy, General Motors Co. has regained its spot as the world’s largest global seller of automobiles.
General Motors Is World’s Top-Selling Automaker

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Avatar for user 'Willard'

Willard | September 7, 2012 at 1:25 p.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago

The number one cause of the national debt are the Bush Tax-cuts
National Debt Graph by President
CHART: Bush Policies Dominant Cause Of National Debt

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | September 9, 2012 at 5:04 p.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago

CA Defender, you assertion that President Obama is "now seen as part of the 1%, just another rich fat-cat catering to the needs of Wall Street and the bankers" is absurd.

Basically, Obama is a moderate who favors capitalism with safety nets such as healthcare, social security and medicare to fill in the gaps that the free market can't.

I think this is where most Americans are.

Republicans can try and paint Obama as some far left socialist, but anyone with an ounce of intelligence can see right through that kind of rhetoric.

Anyone who votes for Willard Romney will be doing so based on socially conservative values, NOT based on economics.

Romney's entire economic plan, if you add it up, costs more than Obama's. More tax cuts for the rich and corporations, more military spending, and he has already hinted at going to war with Iran.

Nobody in their right mind would vote for Romney based on his economic policies, the supporters he has are those who are against things like abortion and who tend to be socially conservative.

The United States is the ONLY developed country on earth where we have an epidemic of bankruptcies and erosion of individual wealth due to medical costs. Every other developed nation ensures healthcare for their citizens. That alone has enormous fiscal consequences when you start looking at unpaid hospital stays, work productivity, and the health and vitality of our nation.

A President Romney would set us all back light years.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | September 10, 2012 at 11:37 a.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago

No Bush II , Karl Rove or Condi Rice at the Convention? Not even a such a moderate as a Colin Powell???

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