Obama Hits The Stadium

From the 37th floor heights of Denver’s exclusive Pinnacle club, where Robert Rubin, Larry Summers and a host of other past and possibly future Democratic economic policy heavyweights munched on sushi and grilled shrimp, to the streets in front of the city’s convention center snapped up the last of the Barack Obama T-shirts, the Mile High City was filled with an air of palpable anticipation as the convention attendees geared up for his much-awaited acceptance speech. The big question: with the polls tightening to a virtual dead heat in the weeks before the convention as Obama still appeared to be struggling to capture many of the white working class voters he will need to reach the White House, Democrats waited anxiously to see if he would be able to use the speech to connect better with those voters and begin to win them over to his camp.

So what to look for?

“He needs to be concrete, to connect, and to better contrast himself with McCain,” said one former high-ranking Clinton official. Like many, he argues that Obama needs to move away from the lofty calls for change that have peppered his speeches so far, and show struggling voters much more clearly how his policies would improve their lives.

Jason Furman, the campaign’s lead economic strategist, promised he would do just that. “You will see in the speech that he will really lay out his economic agenda, what it means for you, your job, your paycheck, and your health care,” he said. So look for Obama to get more nitty gritty, emphasizing his plans for middle class tax cuts, to counter claims by the McCain camp that he will raise taxes overall. And he will try to draw a much sharper distinction between his own policies and those of his rival. “Most people don’t know what his tax plans look like” Furman asserted. “When they understand our plans, 9 out of 10 will prefer Obama.”

So look for lots of specifics amidst the soaring rhetoric. But look for one other thing as well: Obama took arisk in giving his speech at the Invesco field, home to the Denver Broncos. The festive air was clearly popular among his many backers, who ate nachos and danced to the warm up music by Stevie Wonder and Sheryl Crow as they awaited Obama.

But some strategists wondered whether back home, particularly in troubled states like Ohio and Michigan, the party atmosphere might undercut the serious message Obama needs to send.

“I’m nervous about the stadium” said Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg who has long closely tracked these voters. He worries that the festive atmosphere may not play so well “out in the real world, where people are struggling.”

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