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Can Obama 'Reintroduce Hope' At Convention?

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at Scott High School on September 3, 2012 in Toledo, Ohio.
J.D. Pooley
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at Scott High School on September 3, 2012 in Toledo, Ohio.
We hear how San Diego is being represented at the DNC.
GUESTS:Jess Durfee, San Diego Democratic Party ChairCarl Luna, political science professor, Mesa College

CAVANAUGH: This week, it's the Democrats' turn. 38 delegates from San Diego are part of the California contingent to the democratic national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Votes will be cast, speeches will ring through the halls, and with any luck, no one will talk to a chair. Joining me now from the convention center is Jess did you every, head of the Democratic Party in San Diego. Welcome to the show. DURFEE: Thank you. Glad to be on. CAVANAUGH: What's the mood of the convention? What's going on today? DURFEE: Well, there's a lot of enthusiasm here. We're just sort of settling in. This is the first day of our convention. I have been attending some caucus meetings and going around to different receptions and so forth. People are getting fired up. We're starting to hear speeches in small group, but we look forward to the speeches in the larger gathering on the convention floor later today. CAVANAUGH: Testimony us about the San Diego delegation. There are any prominent local Democrats attend intrinsic DURFEE: Congresswoman Susan Davis is here, and Senate candidate Marty block is also part of our convention here . CAVANAUGH: And what is the message California Democrats are bringing to the convention? DURFEE: One of the things we're looking forward to is the opportunity to California to add to the numbers of Democrats serving in the house of representatives and hopefully return Nancy pelowsy to the speakership. The 52nd congressional district is one of those districts that could happen create that change, along with a few others around the State of California. CAVANAUGH: When I had your counterpart, Tony Krvaric, from the Republican National Convention, I asked him a little bit about the platform that the Republicans had ratified at their convention. And let me ask you a question about the platform that the Democrats have ratified. They have given their support to the concept of same-sex marriage. Do you expect that some congressional dem creates are going to have trouble running on a platform that endorses same-sex marriage? DURFEE: I don't think so. It's really a question of forness. And I don't think any American is opposed to fairness. In some states and districts, that may be more of an issue than others. But I don't think it's an issue that anyone should run from or be afraid of. It is really hard to argue with the fact that every American deserves equality. Certainly we have had those fights in California, and they will be happening around the country. But we really do need a party that'll take leadership in that, and I'm very proud to be a member of the Democratic Party and a member of the LGBT community myself. I'm very proud that we're taking that leadership role you should the leadership of President Obama. CAVANAUGH: Now, Sandra Fluke, the woman who testified before Congress on health insurance for birth control, she was the one who was as a resulted by Rush Limbaugh, she is going to be one of the speaker, I understand at the democratic convention. Is she part of a strategy to appeal to women voters at the DNC? DURFEE: I don't think it's necessarily a strategy. I think it's a reality that we're pointing out the differences between the two parties. The Democratic Party has always been a strong advocate for women's rights and issues important to women. The Republican party has perpetuated their war on women. And her speaking is an example of our party having the right message there and getting that word out to women voters across the country. We'll hear from her in the larger halls. CAVANAUGH: You're breaking up a little bit. So I want to thank you very much for joining us. I'm joined in studio now by Carl Luna, political science professor at Mesa College. Thank you once again for joining us. LUNA: Good to be back. CAVANAUGH: What do you expect Democrats will focus on during this convention? LUNA: They're going to focus on two things. One, the narrative why they're different from the Republican, contrast things that happened just last week in Tampa, but also try to establish the other narrative, Barack Obama deserves to be elected because of the things he can and will do, not just what the other guys would do. CAVANAUGH: And what do you think they're going to stay away from during this convention? LUNA: They're going to have to try to stay away from gaffs and mistakes. You don't want to look back on national TV. The chair incident at the Republican party convention certainly didn't help. I don't think Morgan will come out and speak to an empty saat a at any point. But they've got to rebut things they disagree with, dispute the validity of in the Ryan speech, the Romney speech, the issues of Medicare, that Republicans want to end TDemocrats want to make it more efficient. They have to make that clear. CAVANAUGH: Unlike Mitt Romney, President Obama has a record he has to run on. How does that make his overall message different than the one that Romney needs to give? LUNA: Romney's message comes down to are you better off than you were four years ago? You're not, vote for me. The Obama message has been Mitt Romney wouldn't do a better job. What it really has to be is, you are better off that happen you were four years ago. This is how, and this is how you'd be better if you don't elect the other guys. CAVANAUGH: There has been some flack over that particular question just recently. Apparently on some. The Sunday news shows, some democratic speakers, operatives were asked whether or not people were better off now than four years ago, and they kind of fumblod this question. LUNA: It's a problem when your foot soldiers in the treaches self-inflict, and that's are what they did. Luckily, it wasn't a part of the convention. And the convention is a chance to obliterate that for the Democratic Party. CAVANAUGH: Let's break down some of the issues that we'll hear during the convention. President Obama's executive order made it possible for a number of young immigrants to apply for work permits to continue staying in the country. However, it's not the path to citizenship that many were asking for. Do you expect we will hear about the dream contact during this convention? LUNA: Oh, it will be discussed because that definitely fired up Latino voters, that there is at least something being moved forward with with immigration status for young people. The Republican platform is going to straight out repeal that. CAVANAUGH: And what can we expect to hear from the Democrats on the economy? Is that their weakest point? LUNA: The economy is nowhere nears where you want it to be. We've got 8% and above unemployment, but their message has to be if you're going to be successful, we were in freefall. We've stabilized that. Unemployment is down, and consumer confidence and higher. Things are better than they were, and they can be better yet. CAVANAUGH: Will President Obama -- there have been criticisms among people, even who support the president, in that he has not been able to gain advantage on his successes. He always seems to be running interference when it comes to criticism from the other side. Do you expect to see a turnaround in that some time during this convention? LUNA: Well, the most important moment of this convention would be like in the last one, the nominee's speech. And he has to layout what I've done right, why I deserve a second term. And it is the most important speech of his career. It's the one that if he does a good job of selling it, you'll see his numbers bump up, and it could create the lead he needs to win. If he hedgeses, if he's not willing to toot his own horn in a modest way, we may have some problems. CAVANAUGH: I've heard little sections of his speeches on of the news lately, it does southbound as if he is basically promoting the things that he's condition during the last four years. It seems in the beginning, he was almost running away from a lot of that. LUNA: It's interesting. If you look at his first 2 hundred day, he had the most successful record of getting a lot of things done of any president since Regan. He did worse than any of his immediate predecessors. And that administration has had sort of lead feet on their PR machine. Now, four years later, it's hard to drum that back up. CAVANAUGH: The Democrats are known in the past for having disorganized conventions where things go wrong, and people try to take over the microphones, and it just sort of gives the impression to the American people that perhaps this is not the party that we want to entrust our future in. Things have changed, right? DURFEE: Well Rogers line was I'm not a member of the organized -- they're getting better at stage managing. That's one of the surprises out of Tampa. The Republicans had the moments with the Ron Paul people. And Clint eastwood, and their message, and it hurt them. Mitt Romney did not get the usual bump. He stayed kind of flat. CAVANAUGH: You said the goal of these conventions is to rev up the base of the party, it would seem that might even be more important for the Democrat this is time around. DURFEE: Democrats have a bigger base but a base that's not enthused. Republicans are under the theme, get rid of Barack Obama. Democrats need the theme, wide support of Obama. It's going to be hard -- he has to figure out what to do next. How do we get to that second honeymoon? CAVANAUGH: A lot of people have been reading that President Obama promised a lot to people during his 2008 campaign, and some people feel the president has not delivered on those promises. Did he make the promises people think he did? DURFEE: He did make a lot of promises. There was a sense and hope that he would be able to deliver with it. A lot of people say this is what I want to do, and they can't, and people go, well, that's politics. He CAVANAUGH: He was not challenged, he's not done challenged very deeply from the left. Do you expect any kind of challenges, any voices to speakip we heard a lot of ultraconservative voices. Any left wing that you expect to hear from during this convention? DURFEE: In the Republican party, ultraconservative is just a little left of center. Borrow the Democrats, in 2000 raffle theyeder tried that. They lost the election. The left wing of the party has resolved we want to win. CAVANAUGH: One of the most vexing things for Democrats is how unpopular one of the president's defining pieces of legislation is. The affordable healthcare act does not have majority support. So during this convention, what does the president do? Does he make the case again? What do you think he should do about that? DURFEE: He can't walk away from it because it's the signature legislative accomplishment. If you look at the polls, it's interesting that voters don't like the act, but they like most of the provisions. They like the extended benefits for kid, the no preexisting condition rule, and that's what they would have to frame in a short manner. This is how it benefits you. And the big mistake in the legislation, it doesn't kick in until 2014. So it's harder to sell than saying if I'm elected, I'll cut your taxes. CAVANAUGH: In a sense, he should make the case again. DURFEE: He's got to make a case. Otherwise you're seated that field to the Republicans for the campaigners, he's got to reclaim Medicare, work harder on rebutting the claims of the wolf to work model, things which have been shown to not be correct. He has to be able to deliver this in a really powerful speech in that stadium. CAVANAUGH: One of the things we talked with last week was the fact that this is a tight place and there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of people who haven't made up their minds about it. Can the convention -- do you think it's going to have much effect in swaying in voters? DURFEE: I think the democratic convention is going to have a bigger overall impact than the Republican. Mitt Romney didn't get a big bump. This is Barack Obama's big chance to fire up his people for the fall campaign. After that, the next big one will be the debates. CAVANAUGH: So what we're seeing in the polls is the fact that people who would normally vote for a president like Barack Obama are just not that enthused about today this time around? DURFEE: You've got two groups. Those who are disappointed and could have sat out the last election who might drift to Romney because they're disappointed, and those who are I hoped he would deliver all this, I was crying, happy, and it's the morning after, and it's not as pleasant as we thought. That's the group he's got to hit. Those who are moving toward Romney, your best goal is thought to get them to stay home. He's got to get a good percentage of his base to turn out this election. CAVANAUGH: The president's plan is to give his acceptance speech in the huge open-air basic of America stadium. What do you think of that? DURFEE: It's an attempt to show, and I think it was done successfully in Denver that you can pack a huge crowd, show the diversity of the crowd, and address the big audience, Barack Obama's bilge advantage is oration, speech giving. He's got interested in debates off-prompter, but he can give a good speech.

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.

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.

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."

Corrected: September 27, 2021 at 9:24 AM PDT
Midday Edition host Maureen Cavanaugh and producer Patty Lane contributed to this report.