5 factors that could make or break the Democrats' convention

The Republican had their turn. What do Obama and the Democrats have to do to match or exceed the GOP's big party?

Hope and change is so 2008: As an incumbent presiding over a lousy economy, Obama has to worker harder than ever to drum up excitement among voters who aren't exactly fired up and ready to go
(Image credit: AP Photo/Steve Helber)

It's showtime for President Obama. This week's Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., which begins Tuesday, will give Democrats a chance to rebut the charges leveled by Republicans at their convention in Florida last week, and to try and usher voters into the last leg of the 2012 presidential race on the Left's terms. It won't be easy, says Richard Wolf in USA Today. Obama doesn't lack achievements to tout, but he's got an uphill climb explaining "how hope and change feeds a family — and why a first-term president who has yet to reach his goals for job creation deserves another four years to do so." Here are five things that will determine if Obama and his party have a successful political bash in Charlotte, or a weak start to their sprint to November:

1. Can Democrats stir up the old excitement?

Right now, the convention "is shaping up as something of an anticlimax," says Scripps Howard's Dale McFeatters. Obama isn't the exciting new guy on the scene anymore. He's the incumbent, and "the DNC organizers have had an uphill battle to whip up enthusiasm" for what seems like a very predictable event. Like the Republicans, Team Obama doesn't want "uncontrolled, unscripted excitement." But given the importance of rousing the base this year, they can't afford to hold a snoozefest, either.

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2. Can Obama counter Romney on the economy?

"There's no avoiding the 8.3 percent elephant in the room," says USA Today's Wolf. "The jobless rate is as big an obstacle for Obama to overcome as Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan." And "explaining the state of the economy is a delicate dance." Perhaps Obama will simply mention the 22 straight months of job growth, admit it isn't enough, then tout his jobs plan, which is "blocked by Republicans." And Romney might have helped the president by failing to put forward a real plan of his own, says Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic. "Sometimes voters want to hear more than a reassuring word. They want substance." Romney didn't deliver; Obama still can.

3. Will liberal protests spoil the party?

Picking purple North Carolina for the Democratic convention once seemed like a good idea, but recently it's been "a source of consternation among key constituencies," says the AP's Gary D. Robertson. Gay-rights advocates will hold demonstrations because of the anti–gay marriage law North Carolina passed this spring, and organized labor isn't just refusing to chip in for the convention — they "intend to picket, too," because they're unhappy the Democrats chose a state hostile to unions. On top of that, the Democrats have a mom problem, says Katie J.M. Baker at Jezebel. Feminist icon Gloria Steinem and some chapters of the National Organization for Women (NOW) are pushing convention organizers to either let women bring their children onto the convention floor — only credentialed delegates are allowed — or provide free child care. "Women are the key to a Democratic victory, and sometimes, children are the key to women," Steinem said in a statement. "It's both right and smart for the Democratic Convention to behave as if children exist."

4. Can Obama — or Bill Clinton — win over white men?

The president can point to concrete things he's delivered for "every group in Obama's camp — women, young people, African Americans, Hispanics, gays and lesbians, among them," says USA Today's Wolf. But he can't overdo it — "too much catering to the base could further alienate the biggest group Obama is losing to Romney: White men." Obama may or may not be able to sway "the 'Bubba vote,'" but that's why he's called up "Bubba himself: Bill Clinton." Clinton is scheduled to jazz up Democrats — and maybe swing voters — on Wednesday night in primetime.

5. Will Hillary be missed — and can John Kerry fill her shoes?

Obama's speech on Thursday will be the focal point of the whole convention, says Scripps Howard's McFeatters, but "the second most popular Democrat, Hillary Clinton, will be half a world away in Russia and the Far East." This is the first Democratic convention Hillary has missed in her adult life, but "she argues, rightly, that as secretary of State she should refrain from partisan politics." Instead, Clinton's potential second-term replacement at State, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), is giving the convention's big foreign policy speech on Thursday night. "The speech closes a loop between Kerry and Obama begun in 2004," says Glen Johnson in The Boston Globe. That year, when Kerry was the nominee, he "tapped Obama to deliver the keynote address at his nominating convention in Boston." That speech launched Obama's political career; we'll see if this speech can revive Kerry's.

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

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