There’s nervousness galore among Democrats as party leaders, supporters and delegates flooded the streets of Denver on the first day of their nominating convention. The source of that worry: despite deep economic woes that many expected to give Barack Obama a big advantage against rival John McCain, a spate of recent polls show the race in a virtual dead heat.
Many worry that the Senator from Illinois is failing to convince struggling working and middle class voters that his program for change will make the economy work better for them. (See this piece posted Sunday on BusinessWeek.com) The Mile High city was full of worried chatter by everyone from pollsters and strategists to the lobbyists partying and networking around the edges of the convention offering up suggestions about what he needs to do – attack McCain, go more populist, lose the lofty language and talk more directly about his economic prescriptions.
But those close to the campaign were working just as hard to tamp down the worries. At a press event sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Valerie Jewett, a senior advisor to the campaign and a longtime personal friend of the Obamas, and Senator Dick Durbin, the senior Senator from Illinois, tried to calm those worries.
When I asked Jewett what Obama needed to do to make the sale to those voters, she cautioned patience. “This is about where we are in the election cycle,” she said. These folks are getting up in the morning and going to work, “they’re focused on figuring out how to pay for their health care, how to send their kids to college or how to pay the rent. It’s unreasonable to expect them to be focused on the election at this point.”
Durbin conceded however, that many voters also have good reason to look skeptically at politicians promising to make peoples’ lives better. “People are real cynical,” he said. “They’ve seen a lot of that.” His advice to Obama: get more specific. “He needs to be as close to street level as possible.”