CHARLOTTE — One thing became clear on Day One of the Democratic convention: Party leaders are determined to address the so-called “enthusiasm gap” between the Republican base and core Democrats.
Whatever their level of comfort with Mitt Romney, conservatives are eager to oust Obama. Liberals may still be with the president, but their excitement is gone, and many aren’t expected to come out to vote. (Already, pollsters are reducing the Democratic sample in their surveys.) So on the first day of the party confab in Charlotte, speaker after speaker tried different ways to rally the Democratic base, from passionate exhortations (Deval Patrick) to pep-rally boosterism (Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley).
The night’s final address, by Michelle Obama, hit some of the same notes as Ann Romney’s at the Republican convention in Tampa last week, but with an important difference: While Ann Romney was reaching out to skeptical undecided voters, trying to convince them that her husband understood their lives, Michelle Obama was primarily preaching to the converted, reminding them that her husband’s work — and theirs in keeping him in office — isn’t finished yet.
Her speech was a tribute to the virtues of patience and endurance. She attested to the president’s own hard work, burning the midnight oil. And she urged the party faithful, especially those outside the convention hall, to keep trusting him and make an effort to be heard.
“We are playing a long game here...change is hard,” she declared, later adding, “If so many brave men and women could wear our country’s uniform and sacrifice their lives for our most fundamental rights, then surely we can do our part as citizens of this great democracy to exercise those rights, surely we can get to the polls and make our voices heard on Election Day.”
Her plea seemed to be directed with special urgency to African Americans, among whom Michelle Obama has a particularly avid following, and who might not come out in numbers anywhere close to 2008, jeopardizing his chances in states like Virginia and North Carolina. But her heartfelt delivery, and entirely positive message, was probably appealing to all of Obama’s followers, and may even have roped in some moderates as well.
Michelle Obama herself has come a long way since 2008, when she was a powerful presence but raised some eyebrows with a statement about being proud of America “for the first time in my adult life.” Since then, she’s been patriot-in-chief, her husband’s chief ambassador to military families. Her determination to remain above the fray, and to stay out of policy fights, has been rewarded with high favorability ratings.
Last night, she tried to bestow some of her warmth and approval ratings on her husband, who has lost a little shine after all those late nights in the White House. It’s impossible to imagine the Democrats reclaiming the “hope and change” fervor of 2008. Keep the faith and wait for better days? That’s the key to Obama 2012, and Michelle Obama put her own determined spin on the message last night.