It's halftime in America, as
Halftime, that is, for that part of America that's glued to the television set (or, now, the smartphone screen) whenever political conventions are underway.
A modern political convention is like a jittery, wonky Bohemian Grove encampment populated by politicians, campaign pros, celebrities (Eastwood and the Oak Ridge Boys for the Republicans,
The GOP convention, it's safe to say, wasn't
It's an asymmetrical contest, as political scientist Samuel L. Popkin points out in a wise book, "The Candidate," that campaign managers on both sides have been studying all year. "The challenger gets to offer the promise of change," Popkin notes. "The incumbent has to defend the idea of more of the same."
The president's mission is to escape that trap — to avoid getting stuck defending an unsatisfactory status quo. "Obama must persuade people he is on a path that will pick up steam and give us a better future," says Popkin, who advised
Here's a halftime report on the two conventions so far, with a prediction or two for the Democrats' week ahead:
Enthusiasm gap: The GOP made some likability headway; can the Dems outdo them? The challenge is rekindling the elan Obama enjoyed in 2008, especially among women and young voters. So far, most of their enthusiasm (like the Republicans') comes from the negative side: the fear of what a Romney presidency would bring. Obama can't run on Change, but can he revive Hope?
Please stop saying that: All week long, Republicans delighted in repeating "You did build that," their response to Obama's mangled speech about businesses that got government help. If you're playing the drinking game, expect many, many Democrats to parrot Obama's favorite attack phrase: "the failed policies of the past."
Character witness: The GOP's best was
Boldest theme: Ryan and other Republican speakers argued that it's time to ask Americans to make sacrifices — a word rarely heard in earnest in recent campaigns. They didn't say, though, that the sacrifices they're proposing fall more on the poor (who lose benefits in the Romney-Ryan budget plans) than on the rich (who get new tax cuts). Look for the Democrats to pick up the meme and say they're bold enough to ask sacrifices too, but only from the upper crust.
Osama Bin Laden: The late terrorist won't actually be in Charlotte, but it may sound that way. Expect Democrats to remind voters several times a day that Obama arranged Osama's demise. Republicans mentioned it maybe once all week.
Clint Eastwood: He won't be in Charlotte either, but his ghost will. Eastwood nearly derailed the GOP program Thursday night with a rambling monologue that featured an empty chair. (He did it to make sure his
Best surprise: Don't look now but both sides' relentlessly negative campaigning may veer onto positive ground, at least for a while. GOP pollster David Winston says surveys show that voters are hungry for someone to tell them how he plans to make the country better. "Both campaigns are being asked to do something they haven't done so far: Advocate a positive outcome. Propose a future and sell it. The candidate who does the best job of that is going to win."
At halftime between the two conventions, the two teams are weary, bruised and locked in a tie. Both are looking for breakout moments, but neither has found one yet. Romney's first half performance has been solid, but not brilliant. Can Obama, who once compared himself to basketball's LeBron James, create some momentum in the second half? This week in Charlotte will tell.