Last week I gave you 10 things to look for in Mitt Romney's speech to the RNC. I gave his speech a "B" and I think he accomplished enough to stay competitive in the race.
Tonight, President Obama has a golden opportunity. With little else on prime time TV tonight, he will have the undivided attention of every interested voter in the country. His speech will probably be the most watched of either convention. Thus, this is his one and only shot to explain directly to the country why he thinks he deserves a second term and a second chance. From here on out, all his comments will be filtered by the media or responded to by Romney during a debate.
Here are 10 things to listen for in tonight's speech:
1) How will Obama handle the question of "are you better off than you were 4 years ago?" He has to look into the camera and explain to the average citizen why their life is better now that it was in 2009 when he took office. Obama can't just rattle of a list of economic factors in this argument, he must personalize it to be effective.
2) Will Obama offer a robust defense of his health care law? Clinton's defense of the law was fervent last night; but, it was complicated. If Obama is going to address the issue, he needs to explain it better than he ever has before.
3) What factor will Romney play in the speech? Will the President call out his opponent by name and if so, how scathing will his attack be? Some analysts say that the President need not worry about Romney because if he seals the deal with his '08 voters, they won't even consider Romney as an alternative. If Obama spends more than 5 minutes on Romney, it will serve as a signal that he has given up trying to win over '08 voters and is now simply trying to disqualify his opponent as a viable presidential choice.
4) Will Obama propose a 5 point economic plan of his own tonight? We know Romney has published his plan and talked about it last Thursday at the RNC. Tonight is Obama's best chance to explain what specific steps he intends to take to promote economic growth. He could come out with a new stimulus plan, a new tax scheme or even a proposal for entitlement reform. If he does, he can set himself up to go on the offense in the first debate. If not, he leaves Romney room to further define the issues in the race.
5) How much emphasis will Obama put on foreign policy? His pollsters say his approval ratings on national defense are sky high. Romney has neglected to spend time casting Obama as a poor leader on the international stage. Obama could take 10 minutes to play up his Commander-in-Chief credentials and remind voters that he already holds the position, whereas Romney has never handled complex foreign policy issues before.
6) Just like last week, the last 5 minutes (the call-to-action portion) of this speech will be very important. They need to be memorable and complete the story of his first term in a manner than excites his supporters and temporarily mutes his opponents. If anyone can deliver a stirring conclusion, it's Obama. Let's see if he brings out his best writing tonight. Perhaps he will even admit some mistakes and ask for a second chance. Voters usually reward humble officials who admit mistakes, and Obama has plenty to admit to.
7) Will we hear something new tonight? Presidents rarely use convention speeches to debut policies. However, with the race so tight and Obama seeking a knock-out blow, perhaps this is a good time to take a shot on something controversial. Hispanics are still waiting on that comprehensive immigration reform. What time like the present to bring it up?
8) How will Obama handle social issues? We know he is expected to be the first President to fervently endorse gay marriage at a convention. Will he follow that up with a proposal regarding expanding the definition of marriage nation-wide? What about abortion rights? Gun laws? Religious freedom? I suspect he will limit his social agenda to gay-marriage.
9) Does he give some love to environmentalists? If there is one liberal group that has been ignored the most in the President's first term, it is the green activists. Sure he rejected the KeyStone pipeline (for now wink, wink), and forced the auto industry to set new miles-per-gallon goals. Those matter to the green movement. However, he has been silent on global climate change policy and offered no leadership at all to recent global summits convened to address the issue. With the Solyndra scandal handing over his head, the President may be hesitant to talk too much about new investment in alternative energies in a public way. He needs young environmentalists to vote this year and thus will need to say something nice to them. What he says and how he says it will matter to a lot of Americans on both sides of the aisle.
10) Perhaps the most important result of tonight's speech will be whether a theme comes out of it. The campaign slogan is "forward." What does that mean? Forward into what? Forward where? Where are we going? Where are you taking us? What is you vision for the America of 2016?
President Obama has a tall order tonight to convince undecided voters that he deserves a second term. While his head-to-head numbers with Romney in key swing states look good for re-election, his underlying approval numbers combined with a relatively weak economy are glaring red flags for November.
About 9 hours after President Obama wraps up his speech, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release the latest unemployment figures. Those are not expected to show much improvement in job creation, labor force participation or wage growth.
The Census Bureau will release the latest poverty report next Wednesday, further complicating the President's message that things are getting better. That report is expected to show an increase in the number of Americans now classified as living in poverty and a further decline in average family incomes.
The President will have the spotlight tonight and must make good use of it. Tomorrow morning, the Romney camp will point it back on the struggling economy. If the President's speech is not spectacular, it's glow may not last more than 9 hours.
Filed under: National Goverment