The Demcrats came to the convention with two imperatives: win over Hillary Clinton’s feminist supporters who are angry with Barack Obama and win over independent voters who are fearful of him. As I wrote here, “there is an obvious tension between these two vital objectives; Clintonâ€™s core supporters are liberal feminists, while independent voters tend toward political moderation.”
The Democrats have tackled these two challenges one night at a time. On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton made a strong case for why liberal feminists should vote for Obama, not McCain. It’s a case that basically makes itself, but, given the audience, it’s also a case that may prevail only in slow motion.
On Wednesday, the convention turned to a broader audience, and Bill Clinton, the only living Democratic politician who has had sustained success with that audience, took center stage. His speech was just about pitch perfect for its purpose. He lavished praise on Obama and specifically vouched for his national security credentials, the issue (presumably) of greatest concern to moderates and independents. Clinton also turned his guns on the Republicans, which is the other half of the case for voting Democratic. But he was respectful of McCain and avoided the hatchet-man role he played (if memory serves) at the convention in 2004. Thus, he probably retained whatever credibility he has left with moderates and independents.
Joe Biden followed. Any claim Biden has to being a moderate expired in the mid-1980s. His recent voting record is about as liberal as Obama’s (Talkin’ Joe recently was rated the Senate’s third most liberal member, I believe). Yet Biden does a decent job of talking like a sensible friend of the common man. And he made an effective, though dishonest, case against McCain.
On the whole, then, it seemed like a good night for the Dems, and a pretty good convention overall.
Tonight, of course, will tell the tale. Obama will likely be attentive both target audiences — the liberal feminists and the independents — though he would be well advised to focus on the latter. He will also be under conflicting pressures: on the one hand he will want to display the magic that got him where he is, but on the other hand he won’t wish to play into the role of over-hyped, specifics-free celebrity that the McCain campaign has assigned him. It’s a lot to ask, but we’re talking about a very talented politician and, at his best, a great speaker.
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