8 Questions

Dan Balz on the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte

Question 1: What is President Obama's most important objective?

Mitt Romney began his convention in Tampa last week with a long to-do list. President Obama’s is shorter but no less daunting. This is not Denver 2008. There probably won’t be any Greek columns when he speaks in the stadium Thursday night. The president’s task, after almost four years in office, will be to persuade voters disappointed by what has happened that he knows how to make the next term better than the first.

There are some obvious objectives. He’ll want to keep forcing the election to be a choice and not just a referendum on his record. He’ll want his convention to draw sharp contrasts with Romney. But some Democrats say the Obama campaign has already done a good job of that during the summer. They believe that it’s time for Obama to focus on the future.

Republicans see Obama in a tough spot. They argue that voters believe that Obama over-promised in 2008 and didn’t deliver. As GOP strategist Chris Henick put it, Obama has “fatigued the bully pulpit” and needs to change that. Other Republicans say he has to answer the question posed by Paul Ryan, the GOP vice-presidential nominee, at the Tampa convention: Without a change in leadership, why will families be better off in the next four years?

Obama has accomplishments to point to: The auto bailout has helped turn around the auto industry. He’s never sold his health-care program, but he can try to show how things will be better as that law continues to take effect. He made the decision to send a SEAL team to kill Osama bin Laden. But he also has to persuade voters that everything he did has helped set the foundation for a true recovery.