No, not a bad start at all

On Monday evening the talking heads were all bemoaning a slow start to the Democratic convention. “They have to start taking on John McCain” was the common refrain. “There will be no bounce from this convention.”

It seems to me the Obama team and the DNC have got their messaging and their timing just about right. On Monday they did a pretty good job of introducing their nominee, ending with a personal and powerful address by Michelle Obama. She made a case for her husband that only a wife and partner could pull off. In the process, America got to see just who their new first lady might be, and it was an impressive performance.

Tuesday’s start was slow, with an afternoon of speeches only the delegation members of the speaker bothered to pay much attention to. Except for the two big surprises of the day: Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), who delivered a blistering critique of the Bush administration, tied John McCain directly to eight years of failure and bounced around the stage like a college cheerleader. Where was this Dennis when he was running for president? Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer got the crowd on their feet with a retail political stem-winder that would have pulled crowds away from a Rodeo back home. Schweitzer’s populist rhetoric was just what the crowd needed to get fired up for the night’s big event, the appearance by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.)

It had been 20 years since a losing candidate got the attention Hillary did for a convention speech. And she didn’t disappoint. After a gracious start calling on all Democrats to support Barack Obama she veered close to a Clinton campaign speech, tantalizing her supporters with themes and stories from her race for the nomination. Then she deftly wound up that litany with a powerful reminder that the campaign had not been only about her, but about millions of Americans who need help, and a sharp comparison between what they will get from an Obama presidency and a McCain presidency. She clearly showed she would have been a great candidate and promised to campaign for the Obama-Biden ticket and exhorted her supporters to do the same. It will be hard to resist her call to action.

Over the first two nights of the convention the message has been building nicely. As this is written we have yet to hear from Wednesday’s big guns, former President Bill Clinton and soon-to-be vice presidential nominee Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.). We can only presume the former president will put aside his bitterness over the primary campaign and make a strong case for Obama. Biden has already used his sharp wit on McCain and we should see more of that from him, plus the drawing of a sharp distinction between the future as the two campaigns see it.

Barack Obama has already proven that he can deliver a powerful, uplifting speech. He’s going to have some tough acts to follow on Thursday but one can only assume he’s up to the task.

This carefully staged building of the Democratic convention is just what is needed to finally give Obama the “bump” all the experts have been looking for. It looks to me like the campaign is on message and on time.

Goddard is a founding partner of political consultants Goddard Claussen.
E-mail: ben@gcsa.com