Everything was clicking for the Democrats. First Clint Eastwood overshadowed Mitt Romney on his big night. Then Julian Castro met high expectations and Michelle Obama gave perhaps the most effective speech a First Lady has ever given. Bill Clinton mesmerized everyone who would even consider voting for Barack Obama, and Gabby Giffords made grown men cry.
But then Obama delivered an acceptance speech that earned decidedly mixed reviews. He ticked off a series of commendable long-term goals, scored several points on foreign policy and effectively argued that November is about choosing between two visions of America.
He fell short, though, of convincing many voters that he has a plan to implement his vision and that he can make the next four years different from the past four.
Even before Obama took his turn, there was a sense that the series of home-run speeches could only temporarily repress an undying threat to the president’s reelection.
No matter how many sweet-smelling cardboard Christmas trees you hang from your rearview mirror, you can’t totally mask the smell coming from the backseat. And so hours after Time Warner Cable Arena exploded with cheers for Obama, new jobs numbers came out: A disappointing 96,000 new jobs were created in August, not even enough to keep up with population growth. The unemployment rate ticked down because so many discouraged people gave up looking.
Just like that, some of the glow from the Democrats’ successful convention was dulled, and the national conversation turned back to the economy and the listless recovery.
The election is going to boil down to the outcomes in 10 or fewer swing states, and the unemployment rate is higher than the national average in many of them. North Carolina, for instance, has the nation’s fifth-highest rate, at 9.6 percent in July. Florida is at 8.8 percent and Nevada has the highest rate in the nation, 12 percent. It is in states like those that Friday’s jobs news will most quickly rekindle worries and replace the festive images from Charlotte.
Given that no one expected the DNC to persuade Republicans to vote for Obama, the measure is how it did rallying the liberal base while also appealing to undecided voters, including the leaners. Obama went 1-for-2.
Convention speakers threw plenty of red meat to the base, including on social issues and women’s issues. They also effectively painted Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, as a throwback to the Republican policies that drove the debt throughout the 2000s and helped prompt the financial sector meltdown.
Independent voters, though, are probably still troubled by the storylines that dominated just before the Democratic convention: Questions about whether they’re better off than they were four years ago, and Obama’s giving himself a grade of “incomplete” in fixing the economy.
So after two weeks of speechifying, we’re back to a race that appears headed for a photo finish.