Democratic National Convention: What to Watch For

Starting Tuesday, the Obama campaign gets their chance to make its case to the American public. Unlike 2008, when the theme was all about change, Team Obama's challenge in Charlotte is to convince a wary and anxious American electorate to stick with the status quo.

Addressing the Elephant in the Room At this point in 2008, 80 percent of Americans thought things in the country were "off track." Today, more than two-thirds (67 percent) still feel pessimistic about the direction of the country. Obama's challenge is to acknowledge the fact that the economy is still struggling, while providing a positive path to prosperity. Can he do this without looking defensive? If he paints too rosy a scenario of his first term, he risks looking woefully out of touch.

Filling in "Forward" The Obama campaign and its allies have made this race a referendum on Romney instead of a referendum on the president's first term. This week, the president has to make the case for what HE will do to move the country forward, not just what he believes Romney will do to push us backward.

The Enthusiasm Gap There is a lot of chatter about whether the Obama camp can fill the 75,000 seat Bank of America stadium on Thursday night. But, more broadly, there's the question of whether the convention will be able to generate the kind of energy and enthusiasm from its base that comes close to what it had in 2008. Gauging enthusiasm is tough (many of us remarked at how the Tampa Bay Times Forum lacked that real "buzz" during the GOP convention). But, as important as the energy in the stadium, is the ability for the nominee to fire up his base for the next two months ahead.

North Carolina Is Not Colorado Despite the rhetoric from the Obama campaign about their on-the-ground effort in the Tar Heel state, North Carolina is, at best, a stretch for Obama to carry again. They have not spent as much money on advertising here as they have in states like NV, NH, IA, OH, CO or FL. Moreover, many have speculated that once the DNC pulls up stakes from Charlotte on Friday, the Obama campaign is likely to pull back even more on advertising. After being outspent for most of the summer, the GOP is about to enjoy a phenomenal spending surge this fall. That means that Team Obama will have to make some serious spending decisions. Can they afford to stay in North Carolina when they are getting outspent in Ohio - or Iowa? Probably not.

Timing Is Everything Going second means that Democrats get to respond to all the charges thrown at them by the GOP last week. It also means they get squash any sort of convention "bounce" for Romney in the polls. But, hosting a convention in the first week of September comes with its own risks. It is either the first week of school (my son starts kindergarten Tuesday), or the first full week of school for most kids. The new schedule, new homework and new challenges (that oh so fun change of bedtime routines) mean parents are even more distracted than ever. On Wednesday, the NFL kicks off its 2012 season. And, on Thursday night, Obama is competing for 18- to 29-year-old eyeballs with MTV's Video Music Awards show. Prime Time Speakers SAN ANTONIO MAYOR JULIAN CASTRO: The 37-year old mayor hits three of Obama's key target demographics: he's young, he's Latino, and he represents a fast-growing city in the western part of the country. He also has a lot in common with the man who gave that 2004 DNC keynote speech and is president today. Raised by a single mom, he attended Harvard Law school, and represents a new era of minority politics. A New York Times magazine piece dubbed him "The Post-Hispanic Hispanic Politician": a pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-NAFTA Latino. He's also a representative of the fast growing mufti-generational Latino family. Although his mom was a Chicano political activist, he didn't grow up speaking Spanish.

FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA: In 2008, America was first introduced to the woman behind the man. Today, she's a ubiquitous presence in American cultural life. Whether it's doing jumping jacks with kids to promote her "let's move" initiative, sharing gardening tips in her book, "American Grown: The Story of The White House Garden and Gardens Across America," or talking about her love of kale chips with David Letterman, the first lady is everywhere. But, her role on Tuesday night will be to speak as "the everywoman" said one Democratic advisor. With the main theme of the DNC "building the economy from the middle class out," we should expect Mrs. Obama to stress her humble background, her student debt and her own struggles as a mom of young kids. If Mrs. Romney's job was to get women to like and trust her husband, her role now is to convince Americans that her husband not only feels their pain, but better understands what they are going through than the other guy. ELIZABETH WARREN AND PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: What's fascinating about the Wednesday-night line-up is the seeming contradiction of the two prime-time speakers. Warren, the former Harvard professor and the brains behind the Obama administration's new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is a populist firebrand with her own "you didn't build that" stump speech. President Clinton is the centrist Democrat who once declared that the era of big government is over. I'd expect them to serve as a one-two punch. Warren will make the case against Romney, with all of the familiar attacks we've heard over the last few months - he represents and advocates only for the very wealthy and privileged while leaving regular people behind. I'd expect Clinton to make the case for Obama's vision for the future and remind people about how his party helped to build up wealth for the middle class. VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: In 2008, Joe Biden's job was to provide some blue-collar cred to a ticket that needed to make inroads among white working-class voters. He also added Washington and international experience to a ticket that was headed by a one-term senator.

This year, his job has been to serve as an attack dog and defender of the president and the administration's policies. Some of those attacks have gotten him into hot water. He's also a become the butt of late night jokes and caricatured as a bumbling gaffe machine.

Even so, the man can fire up a partisan crowd. And that will likely be his role at the DNC.

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