Has President Barack Obama set the bar too high for himself? When he formally accepts the Democratic nomination for president on Thursday night, Obama will follow two speakers who wowed the Democratic Convention crowd in Charlotte this week: his wife, first lady Michelle Obama, and former President Bill Clinton.
The 42nd president's defense of Obama's term in office was classic Bill Clinton: translating policy issues into easy-to-understand sound bites, folksy but not condescending, and emotional but not too animated. For instance, here's Clinton's take on the GOP message: “We left [Obama] a total mess, but he hasn't cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.”
Clinton has a unique place in American politics – an ex-president who left office with high approval ratings who is still young enough to globetrot and campaign when needed. The Republicans don't have an equally popular opposite number, which is why Obama, in an unusual move, thanked Clinton on stage in a hug-filled photo opportunity. The Democrats bet big that Clinton would put aside his wife's past rivalry with Obama and deliver, giving him the coveted 10 pm spot on Wednesday instead of Vice President Joe Biden. They're happy they did.
The big question is whether Obama can deliver a speech on par with Clinton's and propel the party's momentum past this week. Purple Strategies founding partner Alex Castellanos said on CNN on Wednesday night that Obama doesn't have to. “Lock the doors. You don't have to come back tomorrow. This convention is done,” he told Democratic strategist Paul Begala, adding, “This will be the moment that probably re-elected Barack Obama.” The Romney campaign, with its significant money advantage, will have something to say about that.
Four things to watch on the final night of the Democratic National Convention (and Friday):
The Friday jobs report
July's jobs report disappointed, moving the unemployment rate up a notch to 8.3%. The August report, due out Friday morning, has high stakes for the Democrats. A poor showing and higher unemployment percentage will throw cold water on any post-convention momentum very quickly.
No longer a surprise guest
NBC correspondent Chuck Todd predicted Thursday on Twitter that Democrats could have a surprise guest of their own on Thursday night, tweeting, “think AZ for a ‘surprise' speaker tmro.” On Thursday, the Associated Press confirmed that former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will lead the Pledge of Allegiance in a moment that should give the convention an emotional lift.
The No. 2
Vice President Joe Biden has been largely overlooked during this event, except for some praise from Clinton Wednesday night, after a gaffe-filed summer. Thursday night, he'll have his turn in the spotlight in a speech that will most likely focus on his own working class roots.
The president historically takes the high road during the convention speech, with the vice president and others serving as “hatchet men” (or “hatchet women.”) However, this year's campaign has been especially terse at times . It's worth watching how much Obama attacks Republican candidate Mitt Romney tonight versus with how much he talks about his own record and plans for the next four years.