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Columns / Gwen's Take

5 Things To Watch in Charlotte

President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012 in Charlottesville, Va.(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

photo of Gwen Ifill
August 31, 2012

Charlotte, N.C. — We dodged a hurricane, survived the gripping humidity, and thrived for a week in the belly of the beast — a national political convention that one first-time attendee, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said reminded him of a trade show.

So let's rinse and the repeat, this time in the Tar Heel State, where Democrats are already descending to renominate Barack Obama. The incumbent gets the privilege of the last word when it comes to scheduling events like these. So expect much of what you see here to be reactive.

1. How large will Mitt Romney loom? 


Candidates hope and work for a bounce in the polls after their conventions end. This year, the bumps that matter will occur in a handful of battleground states.

The Democrats' goal will be to deflate any GOP bounce as quickly as possible without turning their convention into a playground tit for tat. Expect to see the campaign's ads writ large, with every effort made to paint Romney as remote and out of touch.

2. But what about the incumbent?

The main task for anyone seeking reelection is to prove that he or she deserves another turn at bat. But with unemployment bobbing along above 8 percent, and other economic indicators sluggish at best, that's a tough pitch.

So expect the Obama forces to roll out whatever good news they can — with plenty of personal stories to drive the point home. Remember the folks the Romney campaign brought onstage to attest to his good character? The Democrats will want to attest to something different: Obama's competence.

3. Can the VP help?

The Obama campaign went after Paul Ryan hard the morning after his turn at the convention podium for his selective retelling of the Obama record. Expect Vice President Joe Biden to pick up where they left off. Biden has a bit of the pugilist in him, so he is bound to relish his role debunking Ryan and Romney as well.

But, aside from Sarah Palin's and Geraldine Ferraro's history-making appearances as female running mates, it's tough to remember another vice presidential acceptance speech.

4. Can Democrats change the subject back?

By the time Clint Eastwood left the stage and Marco Rubio arrived, the themes of the coming campaign had become clear. The president is not venal, they said, but he is disappointing. Hispanic voters shouldn't write Romney off. Young people either. Page through the speeches and you will find repeated references to all three themes. So how does the president prove the Republicans wrong?

5. Will the president shy away from the grand gesture?

There will be another big outdoor acceptance speech in Charlotte, with tens of thousands of cheering Democrats on hand. But Republicans have gotten a lot of mileage out of the Greacian-style columns that decorated the stage at Denver's Invesco Field in 2008. In a time of fiscal austerity, will the Democrats choose modesty this time?

I have a lot of other questions, but I want to hear yours. Send them to our Facebook page every day this week, and I'll answer them (at least when I know the answer!).

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