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Democratic Convention Hits the Mark

Party loyalists and political observers believe the Democrats delivered on their message of change in what is considered a highly successful convention.

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DENVER — Party loyalists and political observers believe the Democrats delivered on their messages of change and helping the American worker and middle class in what is generally considered a highly successful convention, topped off by Sen. Barack Obama’s acceptance speech as the presidential nominee at INVESCO Field at Mile High Thursday night.

This story first appeared in the August 29, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Some observers said the closely orchestrated extravaganza was long on overarching themes but short on detail. However, they said the Democrats avoided major gaffes that could have hurt Obama’s White House run.

“I think they hit all the bases and all the themes, and at the same time they avoided getting so specific that they would give the other side something to wrap around their necks,” said Marick Masters, a business professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Party leaders and supporters hope the momentum from the four-day confab here carries them over the finish line in November, when Obama will face Sen. John McCain, who’s set to be officially nominated at the Republican convention next week.

Over the course of the week, Democrats focused on the economy, job losses, health care, national security and women’s issues. The party’s platform, adopted Tuesday night, revealed the direction an Obama administration might take, including more scrutiny of trade deals, China’s currency manipulation and subsidies and attention to women’s issues.

“They certainly made a strong effort to convey the impression they wanted to convey, which was twofold,” Masters said.

The first message delivered successfully was that “the Obamas are not elitist” as they have been portrayed by some conservatives and McCain’s camp. The second theme executed well was Obama’s support of the middle class and his pledge to help improve the living standards of working Americans, Masters said.

“Michelle Obama’s speech set off the right tone and basically tried to give [voters and delegates] a feel for how they fit into the American Dream,” which was continued by New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, former President Bill Clinton and Obama’s vice presidential running mate, Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden Jr., Masters said.

He noted the Democrats also managed the divisiveness within their ranks well, giving Clinton, who fought a bruising battle with Obama during the primaries and lost, a prominent role.

The only apparent shortfall in the convention’s messages, sure to be exploited by the McCain campaign, was foreign policy, he noted. Despite the Democrats’ focus on national security on Wednesday night, Masters said Democrats are hard pressed to find a “uniform, unified” message on foreign policy because of a division within the party over the war in Iraq.

There was also griping among the media over lack of access to Obama advisers and campaign staff, causing reporters and bloggers to wonder why, given the mostly positive coverage.

Alexis Herman, who served as labor secretary under President Clinton, said, “I think the message was particularly delivered in terms of the economy. It is all about bread-and-butter issues when you talk about job losses and record foreclosures. We’ve got to get the economy moving again in order to bring about meaningful change and we got that message across.”

Herman also said the party had a “very good discussion around the platform.”

“We highlighted the fact that this administration is going to be about job growth,” she said. “Barack Obama is for providing quality health care…and making energy a high priority.”

Rep. John Spratt (D., N.C.), co-chair of the House Textile Caucus, said he felt the Democrats delivered strong messages but still have more work to do.

“Broadly speaking, the convention has been thematic,” said Spratt. “We tend to talk about goals and objectives at conventions and I think it was well choreographed and beautifully thematic. It illustrated that Democrats are genuinely interested and publicly committed to education and universal health care.”

But Spratt said the party still has to explain to the American people “how we can do things differently and ensure a better outcome than the Republicans have given so far.”

As for Obama’s message on trade at the convention, Spratt said, “He is saying to blue collar Americans, who have not benefitted by trade, that there are a lot of losers in addition to winners. He and John McCain are of a different mind- set when it comes to trade and how it works for American and different economies. I don’t think you will find [Obama] and his USTR quite as aggressive in seeking new trade agreements as the Bush administration has been and John McCain would be.”

Jane Quinn, a substitute teacher with the Oregon delegation, said the convention “delivered.” Quinn had backed Clinton, but now supports Obama.

“The most important message is it doesn’t matter if you are a Hillary or Obama supporter, it’s about getting back the White House and Democratic values,” she said.

Shaun Biggers, a member of the Connecticut delegation, said, “I think the convention served its purpose. The most important thing was to really come together and support [Obama] because the party was divided.…The convention really helped to get that unity message out.”

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