Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 23, 2014

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Inside Game

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Inside Game

Workers clean up to prepare for tonight's program in the Time Warner Cable Arena. The threat of severe weather has moved Thursday night's program into the arena as well. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

The CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing is being published from the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, N.C., this week. For more information on signing up to receive this free email, click here.

THE PODIUM: The story of the day is that the podium will stay inside for tomorrow night’s Obama and Biden speeches. Convention organizers say they’ve decided the odds of intense thunderstorms in prime time are too strong to risk having the convention finale at Charlotte’s open-air football field; Republicans say the move is more because the Democrats were embarrassingly far away from filling the 74,000 seats in Bank of America Stadium.

The convention’s middle session convenes at 5 inside the 21,000-seat Time Warner Cable Arena for six straight hours of speeches reflecting all the constituencies and agendas of the party — climaxing with the party’s surrogate-speechmaker-in-chief. Bill Clinton will take the stage at 10:30 and is supposed to finish formally nominating his best frenemy before the end of prime time. After that, a ceremonial roll call of the states will last well past midnight before Obama as officially acclaimed the party’s 2012 standard-bearer. (Amazingly, the scheduled benediction afterward is to be offered by Monica Lewinsky’s childhood rabbi, David Wolpe of Temple Sinai in L.A.)

Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law professor and consumer advocate trying to take back Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, is the other featured speaker in the carried-by-all-channels final hour. (She’s got 12 minutes to tout her candidacy by describing her role helping the president create the new Wall Street investor protection agency; she won’t mention Scott Brown, this year’s most vulnerable Senate GOP incumbent, by name.) In the 9 o’clock hour, the campaign is hoping plenty of coverage goes to two of Obama’s biggest advocates in the corporate world, Austin Ligon of CarMax and Jim Sinegal of Costco, and to unlikely contraception-coverage advocate (and Rush Limbaugh punching bag) Sandra Fluke. The first two hours will include speeches by Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Mikulski, Steny Hoyer, Barney Frank, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards and Colorado’s John Hickenlooper, one of the half-dozen governors pondering life on the road in Iowa and New Hampshire in four years.

THE TICKET: Obama is about to arrive at the local Air National Guard base outside Charlotte and then will head for the four-star Ballantyne resort; rumors abound that he’ll come downtown tonight. Michelle Obama spoke to groups of African-American, Hispanic and LGBT delegates and will join the Second Couple in the hall’s VIP boxes  for the big speeches. The vice president is having an otherwise quiet day, but Jill Biden spoke to meetings of Americans Indians, Asian-Americans, young activists and the veterans and military family coalition.

THE OTHER TICKET: “My guess is we’ll get a great rendition of how good things were in the 1990s, but we’re not going to hear much about how things have been in the last four years,” Ryan said of tonight’s Clinton appearance during his speech this morning in the Des Moines exurb of Adel. He’s flying to Colorado Springs now for tomorrow’s final swing-state convention counterprogramming rally.

Romney is spending another day in debate prep in a bucolic corner of Vermont, presumably sparring with Obama doppleganger Rob Portman. Ann Romney headlined a “women for Mitt’ rally this afternoon in Findlay, Ohio. “We are not going to apologize for our success,” she said.

THE RINGER: Clinton’s principal assignment tonight is different from what it was when the day began. Before, it was to get the country to forget about his famously complicated and awkward relationship with Obama — by delivering the most disciplined and spirited testimonial possible for his Democratic successor. Now, his top job is much simpler — to get the convention to stop obsessing over the weather.

That Clinton will offer another one of his customarily colorful convention stemwinders is a sure thing, even if his sincerity is not; for two decades now, there’s been nobody better in American public life at the sometimes-you-have-to-fake-it-to-make-it world of campaign rhetoric. But in addition to propping up Obama and tearing down Romney with the sort of finger wagging, lip biting, folksy quipping and hard staring that work so convincingly for him on television, the ex-president’s new mission is to pump so much call-and-response passion into the hall that the delegates forget about their disappointment in this morning’s announcement that they’ll be meeting indoors again tomorrow night.

The energy level in the room last night was far, far higher than on the opening night in Tampa. The drumbeat of varied rationales for re-electing the president started stirring the crowd to a series of sustained and loud ovations long before Julián Castro or Michelle Obama took the stage. The quick distributions of thousands of sherbet-hued “Forward. Not Back,” “Opportunidad” and “We Love Michelle” placards — except in sections where they could obscure TV camera sightlines — roused the faithful even more for the big finish. The mayor of San Antonio and the first lady both hit their rhetorical marks exactly as promised, their complementary up-close-and-personal performances even winning grudging admiration from Republican political operatives today. But, after today’s wet-blanket decision, it’s unclear if such effective stagecraft can kindle sustained enthusiasm within the stoop-laborers of the base for the next nine weeks — the secondary but still important purpose of these conventions, after wooing the voters who haven’t made up their minds.

The delegates will get to hear Obama make his case for another term, warm and dry inside the NBA Bobcats’ home court. Their families, legions of Democratic operatives, throngs of Charlotte’s white-collar citizens, college kids and African-Americans from across the South will be quite literally left out in the rain — deeply dispirited at being denied a cherished chance to help revive the unusual spectacle of Obama’s outdoor acceptance speech four years ago, which helped kindle the hope-and-change optimism that propelled him to such a decisive victory. Even though they were likely to come up short of packing the bleachers (which would have given the Republicans just the visual they wanted out of this week), these faithful were craving that lightning-in-a-bottle moment for themselves. They will not be much mollified by hearing Obama preview his speech on a tinny national conference call line. And so it’s up to Clinton to assuage their disappointment and to persuade them to “stop thinking about tomorrow” at least for one night and stay focused on their larger crusade.

DOIN’ IT FOR HILLS: Beyond that, the speech will be an opportunity for Clinton to put his luster to work on behalf of his wife, who many delegates here are openly yearning for as their 20016 nominee. A speech that helps people forget all the nasty things the one president said about the other four years ago could help with that — in part because an Obama re-election this fall would give Hillary Clinton a little time to get past her yearnings to leave the public eye once she steps down in January as secretary of State. (A Romney win would put much more immediate pressure on her to prepare to take him on in four years, when the Democratic bench is seen as weaker than it’s been in a while — despite this week’s state caucus breakfast groundlaying in Charlotte by half a dozen or more of the nationally ambitious.) Tonight, the secretary will be nowhere near the action, figuratively or literally; she’s on an 11-day tour of the Asia-Pacific region and will probably be arriving in East Timor just before her husband speaks.

MICHELLE’S METRICS: The most arresting visual inside the cold and cavernous exhibit hall that’s serving as the convention’s press filing center is the big digital display screen at the entrance to the Twitter booth. It shows a relatively flat red fever line representing nationwide Tweets per-minute during the first night of the Republican convention — and a surging, spiky yellow line reflecting the same statistic throughout last night. Michelle Obama’s speech went profoundly viral, peaking at 28,000 TPM just before she finished speaking. That compares to a 6,200 peak during Ann Romney’s speech — and a 14,300 peak during the Mitt Romney speech. Last night’s Julián Castro keynote address drew an average of 11,500 tweets every minute — essentially double the 6,100 average during the Chris Christie keynote. The twitterati clearly liked the first lady’s declaration that “we’ve got so much more to do” — there was a 22,000-tweet spike in that minute. Overall, the Democratic convention is on track to spark more young-voter-intensive social media conversation than the Republican convention — with 3 million tweets overall yesterday, compared to 4 million for the entire convention in Tampa.

GIVE HIM AWHILE: All the talk about Castro making a meteoric (Obama-esque) rise in the next four years from Great Latino Hope to a statewide or even national candidate may well be premature. Texans haven’t elected a Democratic to statewide office in the last 18 years, and there’s no sign that record is about to be broken. The voters of his city may well deal him a significant setback this November by rejecting the small sales tax increase he is pushing hard to pay for a citywide expansion of preschool programs. And, at 37, he has plenty of time to wait. He’s term-limited out of the mayor’s office in June 2017; the most likely day-after-the keynote scenario is that he’ll wait until then to decide his next move — perhaps taking a Cabinet post if there’s a Democratic president then or running the next year against Ted Cruz, the about-to-be senator who’s now the state’s preeminent Republican Hispanic.

JUST A SHORT-TERMER? The twisted tale of Thad McCotter’s congressional exit could take another quirky turn today, when Republicans in the Detroit suburbs of Oakland and Wayne counties pick a candidate to hold his old House seat — but only during the six weeks of the lame duck. There’s a good reason to believe the primary winner will be former state Sen. Nancy Cassis, who’s one of five names on the ballot. That’s even though she lost badly (as a write-in candidate) in the primary earlier this summer to hold a somewhat-reconfigured-by-redistricting House seat for the next two years. The winner then was tea party favorite Kerry Bentivolio, a teacher and reindeer rancher. Partisan demographics mean Cassis would be the solid favorite in the special election Nov. 6 against little-known Democrat David Curson. But the race for the full term the same day could go either way — because Bentivolio is pretty far outside the mainstream and a different Democrat, physician Syed Taj, is the opponent. (McCotter, remember, quit Congress after a ballot petition scandal erupted; he’s not been charged, but four of his aides have.)

THE BETRAYED: Doug Hampton, the former Senate chief of staff and cuckolded best friend of John Ensign, was sentenced to a year of probation today for spinning through the revolving door faster than federal law allows. He was originally charged with seven felony counts of ignoring the one-year cooling off period for ex-aides who want to work overtly on K Street, but he cut a plea bargain with prosecutors this summer that involved only one misdemeanor admission.

“You were betrayed by your friend and by your wife,” federal Judge Beryl Howell said in announcing his lenient sentence in Washington. (Prosecutors wanted two years’ probation and 200 hours of community service.)  Hampton apologized “for the choices and decisions that I made.” The proceedings put a bow of sorts on one of the more sordid stories in the recent annals of congressional ethical lapses. Hampton abruptly quit as the Nevada Republican’s top aide four years ago after learning his boss-and-buddy was sleeping with his wife; a few days later, he was lobbying on behalf of Allegiant Air, an airline headquartered in Las Vegas. Ensign, once considered a viable contender for this year’s GOP presidential nomination, resigned last year (returning to his veterinary practice) before the Senate Ethics Committee could go after him for allegedly covering up the affair by helping Hampton start his new business life. The panel published a report urging the Justice Department and Federal Election Commission to take up the case, but so far that hasn’t happened.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “If Mitt was Santa Claus, he would layoff the reindeer and outsource the elves,” Ted Strickland, the Ohio governor ousted two yars ago (and vice-presidential possibility in 2008) said in one of the most unexpectedly powerful and caustic speeches of last night. “Mitt Romney has so little economic patriotism that even his money needs a passport,” he boomed. “It summers on the beaches of the Cayman Islands, and winters on the slopes of the Swiss Alps.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Alcee Hastings (76), the impeached federal judge who’s been a Democratic congressman for Miami for two decades — and is a lock for an 11th term come November.

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter @davidhawkings.

More congressional campaign coverage is on Roll Call’s At the Races politics blog.

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