DNC may have hurt Obama more than help

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Only twice has a political party's national nominating convention hurt its electoral prospects.

• In 1972, people watched in fascination and horror as the antics of delegates so delayed selection of Sen. George McGovern's running mate that it was well past midnight EDT before he gave his acceptance speech. These clowns couldn't run a two-car funeral, much less the country, moderates concluded.

• On the opening night of the Republican convention in Houston in 1992, Pat Buchanan declared a "culture war." This sounded extreme to many viewers. Mr. Buchanan's speech "probably sounded better in the original German," joked Texas liberal Molly Ivins.

In Charlotte this week, we may have witnessed the third time.

• On Tuesday, journalists reported the Democratic Party platform omitted all references to God and to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. When Jewish groups expressed displeasure, it belatedly occurred to Team Obama the deletions may have been impolitic. (Nearly two-thirds of Americans support Israel; more than 90 percent say they believe in God.)

• On Wednesday, Team Obama announced the president's speech the following night would be moved from outdoors at the Bank of America Stadium, which seats 74,000, to indoors at the Time Warner Cable Center, which seats 20,000. The reason given was concern it might rain. But it was apparent the real reason was because Team Obama feared it could not fill the stadium.

Changing the venue was the right call, but it should have been made weeks, even months earlier, because all year the crowds Mr. Obama has been drawing have been much smaller than four years ago. Toby Harnden of the London Daily Mail described this year's crowds at Obama events as sparse and sullen. The campaign, he said, is a "joyless slog."

The venue change would have attracted less attention had it been made earlier. Team Obama would not have been caught in another obvious lie. And thousands of people who had tickets for the speech would not have been turned away because there was no room for them in the much smaller Time Warner Cable Center.

• The big news Wednesday concerned the effort of Team Obama to correct the platform boo-boo. They prepared amendments adding God and Jerusalem to the platform, then rammed them through, Chicago-style. This treated viewers to the spectacle of delegates apparently booing God.

"Embarrassingly, convention chairman Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, had to ask for three voice votes, and each time the nays got louder," the Huffington Post reported. "He eventually ruled that there was two-thirds support for the changes, despite the clear lack of such a majority."

It's hard to top that for incompetence, but Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, succeeded. The omissions of God and Jerusalem were just "technical oversights," she told CNN. There "wasn't any discord" in the vote to amend the platform. This prompted CNN's Anderson Cooper to say she was living in "an alternate universe."

• It didn't rain while the president delivered his acceptance speech, but reviewers left and right rained on his performance. "Barack Obama gave a dull and pedestrian speech tonight, with nary an interesting thematic device, policy detail, or even one turn of phrase," said liberal Michael Tomasky in the Daily Beast.

"He gave one of the emptiest speeches I have ever heard on a national stage," said conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer.

"Reporters think President Obama's speech was lame -- meandering, and sounding like a State of the Union address," said Politico. "People at the after-parties seemed baffled that he didn't lift his game for the big moment."

"It was stale and empty," said disillusioned Obamacon Peggy Noonan. "He's out of juice."

Mitt Romney led Mr. Obama, 46-45, in Rasmussen's tracking poll last week. The Reuters-Ipsos tracking poll had Mr. Romney leading, 45-44. Despite this, Ben Smith of Buzzfeed declared: "Barack Obama leaves the Democratic National Convention here with a commanding position in the race for president."

Mr. Smith is spinning furiously, or he is delusional. Among political pros, there is a technical term for an incumbent president who polls in the mid-40s in the immediate aftermath of his party's convention. That term is "toast."

Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Press and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412 263-1476.


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