First lady Michelle Obama gets some pointers form a stage manager at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. (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 hall is the exclusive province of the TV anchors and the curious until tomorrow afternoon. The Democratic Party decided months ago that — because it’s Labor Day and because their convention fundraising was well short of aspirations — there would only be three nights of speechmaking.
There is some party business going on — caucus meetings for many of the party’s disparate delegate factions: African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, American Indians, other ethnic groups, young people, veterans, the disabled and the religious left. Several thousand delegates spent the day instead at a sprawling street fair staged by the party along Tryon Street, the central business district’s main thoroughfare. But heavy rains drove the crowds indoors before the final headliner acts: James Taylor, West End Mambo, Chairmen of the Board and actor-turned-country-crooner Jeff Bridges (who sounded decent at his sound check this morning).
THE TICKET: Obama offered a labor-rights-emphasizing version of his stump speech to a lunchtime union rally in Toledo; he’s about to land in New Orleans, where he’ll leverage the power of empathetic incumbency with a tour of Isaac’s damage in hard-hit St. John the Baptist parish, 35 miles upriver — then offer a glowing assessment of his administration’s response in time for the evening news. (Michelle Obama was the first of the principals to get to the convention; she arrived in Charlotte this afternoon and came to the Time Warner Cable Arena to check out the setup for her speech tomorrow night.)
“America is better off today than they left us when they left,” Biden declared in finishing his lunchtime rally speech, to the traditional Labor Day auto workers rally in Detroit — a clear effort to rebut the campaign surrogates who offered more equivocal answers to that central quadrennial political question on the Sunday shows. “I’ve got a little bumper sticker for you, folks: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”
THE OTHER TICKET: Romney’s got a down day, while Ryan started playing the traditional running mate attack dog role — opening a two-day trip to swing states North Carolina, Iowa and Colorado with a rally this afternoon in Greenville, 230 miles east of here. “He can’t tell you that you’re better off,” the congressman said of the president, noting the state’s fifth-highest-in-the-nation 9.6 percent jobless rate. “Simply put, the Jimmy Carter years look like the good old days compared to where we are now.” (He spoke as RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and Rep. Jason Chaffetz opened the party’s war room in Charlotte, promising a heavy dose of their own you’re-actually-worse-off counterspin. In the most recent poll asking that question, 36 percent said they were worse off now than at the last election, 28 percent said they were better off and the rest said their standing was about the same)
COLLEGE GUY: The incumbent party in the White House always gets to hold its convention last — a tradition giving the sitting president (or his would-be successor) the better chance to either husband a lead or work to stage a surge. On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, Obama is clearly in the more enviable, former position.
And his side’s performance this week is less important to the outcome than Tampa was for the Republicans a week ago. That was Romney’s last chance to make a first impression that was both unfiltered and tailor-made for the undecideds and the persuadables. (And Gallup reported today that the speech got the lowest approval rating of any presidential acceptance in the past two decades — including from independents, who essentially split evenly into three camps when asked if what they heard made them more or less likely to vote for him, or no difference.) Beyond that, millions of swing voters won’t take another moment to size up the challenger until one of the three presidential candidate faceoffs, which is why the GOP nominee is spending so much of this week in debate prep instead of out on the road.
But for the 60 days after his climactic speech Thursday night, Obama will be able to get the country’s attention from the Oval or the Rose Garden whenever he’s got a mildly newsworthy reason. A domestic calamity or (more likely) a worrisome world event would probably be the only “October surprise” necessary to push him to victory. That’s because the American public almost always rallies to the president’s side in such unsettled moments — and because this president does not have much more of a political hump to get over. While it’s true that national polling shows a dead heat — 464 out of every 1,000 voters backing Obama, according to the Real Clear Politics three-week polling average, 463 for Romney and just 173 undecided — things look much better for the president in the Electoral College. The consensus view is that Romney remains at 191 electoral votes, where he’s been stuck for months. (His biggest recent move has been to shift Wisconsin from lean-Obama into the tossup column by picking Ryan.) Obama, though, looks to have 237 EVs in the bag — only 33 away from winning, giving him many more paths to the magic number than Romney. The challenger could win all seven of the smaller tossup states — New Hampshire (4) Nevada (6), Iowa (6), Colorado (9) Wisconsin (10), Virginia (13) and North Carolina (15) — and still be short of the mark, needing either Ohio (18) or Florida (29) to get there. The Obama-Biden ticket, conversely, could win by sewing up only New Hampshire (which is trending his way) and Florida, or with any number of other combinations from the nine. Ohio, Virginia and Iowa would do it, for example — which is why the two of them have been there so regularly in recent days.
QUADRUPLING DOWN: Keeping up with the convention stereotypes — while the Republicans run theirs with corporate-to-military precision, the Democratic approach is an odd mix of unionized work-to-rule and community organizer free-form — DNC officials have yet to put out a final, minute-by-minute rundown of which person is speaking when. But they say that the roster of speakers has been locked up. And it shows that Democratic members of Congress will be making much more use of the spotlight than their GOP colleagues did last week. The roster lists 27 members of the House alone — four times as many the seven House Republicans who used the podium in Tampa. Boehner and NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions were the only members of the House GOP leadership who did so, but this week the convention will hear from virtually every member of the House Democratic high command: Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Jim Clyburn, John Larson, Xavier Becerra, Chris Van Hollen and DCCC Chairman Steve Israel. (Three of the House members from the host state who are seeking re-election — Mel Watt, David Price and G.K. Butterfield — will address the hall, as will Sen. Kay Hagan. But Larry Kissell, the one endangered incumbent in the delegation, is staying away altogether to focus on what has become an underdog campaign to hold on against former Capitol Hill aide Richard Hudson.)
NO SEAT WITHOUT A BEHIND: There was no go-or-no-go decision announced today about the site for the Obama and Biden speeches, because convention organizers say there’s no decision to be made: They have no intention of moving the convention climax out of the Panthers football stadium, where they will seek to emulate some of the telegenic magic (if not the derided Greek columns) from the 2008 acceptance speech at Mile High Stadium in Denver. They long ago got over the political downside of putting the president in a venue named for one of the perceived villains of the mortgage mess, the Bank of America. But they nonetheless have two worries still on their minds.
The chance of downpours and thunderstorms during the speech (or the electrical-cabling-intensive setup) seems to be abating, declining to 30 percent in the most recent afternoon forecast. The bigger worry, politically, is that the campaign won’t be able to fill the 74,000 seats. Obama had no trouble packing the Broncos’ 84,000-seat facility last time, and anything less than a capacity crowd this week will obviously become fodder for the favorite GOP talking point about deepening buyer’s remorse among the “hope and change” crowd. To counter that, the party is working aggressively to arrange for members of the base — college students and parishoners at predominantly black churches — to be bused in to Charlotte from all over the region. Thousands of free tickets are also being distributed to campaign volunteers.
IN THE BACK YARD: This city was chosen for the convention 19 months ago not because it was a top banking center, of course, but because the Obama team was convinced that was a great way to boost their chances for repeating their Southern miracle of 2008. By organizing record turnouts among black and college-aged voters, he won North Carolina by 14,000 votes (his narrowest margin of statewide victory), which made him the first non-Southern Democrat in modern times to capture a state from the former Confederacy. But that repeat may be proving elusive, no matter how the rest of the convention goes. After a series of statistical dead heats, an Elon University poll out today shows Romney opening up a just-outside-the-margin-of-error 4-percentage-point lead (47 to 43 percent), largely because the respondents like Romney better by 13 points as a steward of the economy. The poll also found less of a gender gap than in many other states; they were tied among women, whereas nationally Obama has been up by 16 points.
QUOTE OF NOTE: “We’ve outraised the Republicans, we’ve out-redistricted them … We’ve out-recruited them,” Pelosi said this afternoon in asserting her party still has a solid shot at gaining the two-dozen seats necessary to reclaim the House majority. (If that happens she’s sure to be Speaker again. if it doesn’t there will be a concerted effort to persuade her to retire as minority leader; if she won’t, several ambitious younger members will plot strategies for pushing her out.)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Democrat John Olver (76), whose western Massachusetts district was reconfigured out of existence once he decided to retire this fall after 21 years in the House.
— David Hawkings, editor
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More congressional campaign coverage is on Roll Call’s At the Races politics blog.