Charlotte, North Carolina - We are the new America. Give us more time. The Republicans are dangerous.
In no particular order, those were the main takeaways from a rousing Democratic National Convention this week that served as a staccato starting gun for President Obama’s final sprint to a second term.
By all accounts, it was an impressive three days of star power, ethnic leadership and slam-the-rival tactics, but experts say the momentum might not be enough to seal the deal for an incumbent saddled with a sluggish economy and a pesky, deep-pocketed opponent.
For the delegates and Democrat Party loyalists on hand in sleepy Charlotte, North Carolina, the convention was a slam dunk, a hit parade of future stars, celebrities and beloved past presidents.
Part nostalgia-fest of Bill Clinton-era economics, part smackdown of an opposition still feeling its post-George W Bush path, the event energised its powerbase, even if critics continue to cast a cautious eye.
Looking up the moment Obama finished his acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination, Marilyn Huntly, 56, summed up the speech in three words:
“Four more years,” she told Al Jazeera in the Charlotte Convention Center.
“He delivered. He smacked it. He had a plan and he laid it down and that’s what we needed,” said Huntly.
Excitement and exuberance spilled into the streets at the close of the convention on Thursday, and it wasn’t just the delegates who noticed.
Richard Fowler, political strategist and host of the nationally syndicated Richard Fowler Show, said the atmosphere was infectious.
“I think the message of this convention was hope and moving forward. And the people here, the crowd here, there was so much electricity and passion. Anyone who said there is an enthusiasm gap in the Democratic Party was not in Charlotte,” Fowler said.
Longtime political analyst Bill Schneider is not so sure the partisan lovefest translates so well with the rest of America.
“People here are at a pep rally. People outside don’t have a lot of pep. They’re a little skeptical about all this,’ he said.
Behind the hoopla, Schneider sees a mostly negative campaign aimed at slamming an opponent on unsure ideological footing.
“It was impressive, but it wasn’t quite the transcendent enthusiasm of the last election. What rallied them was fear,” he said.
“They built a case that they could lead mostly by damaging the Republicans. It’s a negative campaign. It’s tough for Obama to make the case that he has really succeeded. They said we’re not so great but these other guys are really dangerous.”
For the most part, convention rhetoric was geared toward dispelling fears about the economy and portraying Obama as a champion of the middle class.
Obama took pains to provide specific plans for rebuilding the economy and creating jobs, always adding that the plans of his rival Mitt Romney appeared either vague or unrealistic.
In his speech, he announced plans to boost manufacturing, freeze college tuition hikes and improve international trade. He referred to these goals as “real, achievable plans that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this country on a stronger foundation”.
Obama, former president Bill Clinton, and other speakers lashed out at Republicans for bungling the economy before 2008 and for short-sighted fiscal band-aids on issues such as health care, social security and education.
“The fact that Barack Obama’s speech was a re-mix in which he lifted lines from the speeches of the Democrats who came before him means they had more of a coherent message in their speakers than the Republicans,” said Dr Jason Johnson, a professor of political science at Hiram College in Ohio.
“Their message was: Things are hard but we’ve laid the train tracks down and we’re just waiting for the train.”
Even so, Johnson doesn’t see anything especially aggressive in Obama’s strategy.
“It will mobilise people to some extent, but, really, Obama stuck to his basic playbook. I consider [tonight’s speech] to be: “There are two minutes left in the fourth quarter and we’re going to run out the clock.”
If the Charlotte convention was short on progressive politics, it was significant for some historic firsts.
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Same-sex marriage was included in the party platform for the first time, and the participation of Latino leaders and delegates reached an all-time high.
Los Angles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was the chairman of the convention and Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio, Texas, became the first Latino to give the keynote address at a major party convention.
Other Latino voices were plentiful: actress and talk show host Cristina Saralegui opened her speech by saying, “Hola, mi gente!” and was preceded by Benita Veliz, a Mexican immigrant who defended Obama’s Deferred Action programme that allows certain undocumented young people to remain in the country. Actress and Latino organiser Eva Longoria also spoke.
“There was definitely a lot of visibility and a lot of play was given to Latinos. It feel like a lot of times we get token representation but it seems like we’ve gone beyond that into real representation,” said Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum, a Chicago-based policy and advocacy group.
“The presence of so many Latinos on the stage and behind the podium is a testament to the growing Latino political power, and let me tell you it was a long time coming, but will it excite people to come out and vote?”
That seems to be what Obama’s camp is hoping for. Latinos, the fastest growing large demographic group in the US, make up substantial parts of the population in battleground states such as Florida, Ohio, Nevada and North Carolina.
Schneider says there is more to this than electoral pragmatism.
“This convention was the new America. There were lots of minorities, women, young people, gay people. It was the new face of America,” he said.
“The Republican convention was the old America: faith, self-reliance and limited government. The new American values are tolerance, equality and diversity. The only question America has to answer is if the new America has what it takes to mange the economy.”
With the tumult of the convention now passed, voters and parties will focus on the grind of a last-dash election campaign and the first hurdle will be monthly US jobs numbers to be released on Friday.
November’s vote will be greatly determined by how the public gauges Obama’s performance on unemployment. According to the Wall Street Journal, during Obama’s first year in office the country lost roughly 422,000 jobs each month. In the past year, the Journal reported, 153,000 jobs have been created every month.
“Two critical things will happen over the next three days that will shape the narrative of the election race. If unemployment stays at 8.3 or even drops just a little, even to 8.2, then the Clinton speech will become more important. He’ll be the train track guy,” said Johnson, referring to Clinton’s claim that Obama’s policies had the country on the right track.
“Second, Romney will begin his final push and he will have to get negative on personal and social issues. If those jobs numbers are good, Romney will go on a personal attack. And if they are good, Obama will continue to take a knee.
Schneider has a different take, but he also mentions Clinton’s speech as a benchmark moment in the race.
“Clinton was the high-wattage speaker. He made the point “I” did it [about the economy during his two terms]. If I can do it and I endorse Obama, then he can manage the country. And people do believe Clinton can do it because they associate him with good times in every sense of the word,” Schneider said.
”The Democrats will now use their ground game, the grassroots door-to-door and I’m not sure it will work. What works is TV and the Republicans have a lot of money.”