Before the first night of the Democratic National Convention was over, I’d declared there was no lack of enthusiasm in Charlotte for President Obama and the Democratic Party. But I knew something was up upon my arrival in the Queen City four days earlier.
Like most journalists, I’d bought into the narrative that a majority of Obama’s base was disillusioned with him. Their lack of enthusiasm for him due to unmet, sky-high expectations and the prospects of a second term left many wondering if Charlotte would be a wake rather than a revival. Yet my first clue that the impending convention would be a roar of approval for the incumbent came as I was eating dinner on Aug. 31.
A nice lady came by to say hello and pay me a compliment. Always nice to hear in this age of mean tweets. What grabbed my attention was the Floridian’s revelation that in 2008 she was just a volunteer who “probably did donate $100 or $200.” Because “my circumstances have changed,” she arrived in Charlotte as a major donor. The pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action, has gotten a check from her. She also said she maxed out to Obama and the Democratic congressional campaign committees.
The next day I tweeted, “Enthusiasm gap for #Obama? Met dame last night who was a volunteer in 08 knocking on doors. She’s here 4 1st conv as a major donor. #dnc2012.” The mini-missive was greeted with skepticism. Yet, as we saw over three days at the Time Warner Cable Arena, the palpable enthusiasm gap in Tampa for Mitt Romney was nowhere to be seen in Charlotte for Obama.
I wasn’t the only one surprised by what was happening. Before arriving in North Carolina, Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the House Democratic Whip, said he was doubtful. “I think all of us came with a sense maybe this convention would not be energized and up and re-fired up, as I say,” Hoyer said in a meeting with Post writers and editors last week.
“I think what you’re seeing at this convention is a more energized convention and more supportive convention, a more enthusiastic convention than you saw in Tampa,” Hoyer continued. “And the reason for that is there were a lot of people in Tampa who were for Romney, but aren’t sure who Romney is. People here know who Obama is.”
Whereas Romney was rendered rhetorically invisible in Tampa, Obama was ever-present in Charlotte. Whereas the excitement among Republicans was for their deep bench for 2016, the focus of Democrats was on getting Obama reelected in 2012. You could hear it in the pin-drop silence when Vice President Biden and Michelle Obama spoke. And you could hear it in the rousing “Four more years” and “Fired up! Ready to go!” that would inevitably be chanted after many a speech.
The president’s speech wasn’t his best. Then, again, Obama’s best is most people’s extraordinary. But he made his case and answered his critics in an address that made it clear that he was going to do the best he could with the less than ideal hand he has to play as an incumbent presiding over a stubbornly sluggish recovery. And it seems to be working. Three polls released since the convention put Obama ahead of Romney.
We’ll see how long this convention bounce lasts. Yet if Priscilla, a Costco pharmacy employee I met in the shampoo aisle over the weekend, is any indicator, it could last right through Election Day. She told me that before the convention, she was one of the disillusioned who had fallen off the Obama bandwagon. But after watching the three days of convention coverage on television, which she excitedly described as “fabulous,” Priscilla declared herself, “Fired up!”