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Stage Smaller, Stakes Just as High as President Prepares for His Moment

President Obama made a brief appearance with former President Clinton at the convention hall in Charlotte on Wednesday evening. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. | President Obama has given plenty of high-stakes speeches. They have been moments to reset his agenda, set pieces to outline the direction he plans to take the country and blueprints for his path forward should he win a second term.

The Morning LineThursday night’s acceptance speech, now removed from the threat of torrential downpour to the indoor stage, is a critical opportunity for Mr. Obama as he attempts to justify for a national audience why he deserves four more years in office.

The remarks are the punctuation at the end of a sentence crafted over the course of a highly scripted, emotional week for the Democratic Party. The basic point, that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would take the country backward for a repeat of the George W. Bush years, and that it’s only the Democrats who are looking out for the middle class, has been emphasized again and again from the podium.

Senior campaign advisers say the president won’t ignore the fact that many of the promises made on the campaign trail and in his acceptance speech in Denver in 2008 have not become reality.

But they point out that when he spoke that evening in front of a backdrop designed to look like the White House colonnade (not the often-cited Greek columns), Mr. Obama was not framing his candidacy in terms of the economic calamity that would strike less than a month later.

As for Thursday night’s optics, it’s a bit of a scramble. Organizers say they will be pleased if a lack of balloons cascading from the ceiling is the biggest thing they have to worry about. Moving an event long-planned for an outdoor stadium where the Carolina Panthers play into an arena that holds tens of thousands fewer people has been no easy feat.

Already the Obama team had to scrap Earth, Wind and Fire from the lineup, because, aides said, they simply won’t fit on the stage in the Time Warner Cable Arena.

Thousands of volunteers who participated in the campaign’s nine-hour volunteer program to get a ticket were told they are out of luck after all. Busloads of people coming from across the south are no longer headed to Charlotte. The campaign has given people word they can participate in house parties that just might include a special guest — via conference call — but that still leaves many of the most fired-up activists the president needs on board disappointed.

Plans to ask for donations via text message are still on, and the Foo Fighters will perform as planned.

The program gavels in at 5 p.m. ET. See it all on our livestream:


Former President Bill Clinton gave the crowd in the Time Warner Cable Arena Wednesday evening a full-throated defense of the president’s policy agenda the past three-and-a-half years while also leveling a rebuke of the vision put forward by the GOP ticket.

“I want to nominate a man who’s cool on the outside but who burns for America on the inside,” Clinton said near the start of his 48-minute speech to officially nominate Mr. Obama for a second term. (The state of Ohio officially put the president over the top about an hour later.)

The 42nd president addressed Republican criticisms of the president’s handling of a range of issues, including the auto rescue, health care reform and the economy.

“In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s re-election was actually pretty simple, pretty snappy. It went something like this: ‘We left him a total mess. He hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in,'” Clinton said. “President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. Listen to me now. No president, no president — not me, not any of my predecessors — no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years,” he added.

Clinton said the two parties offered starkly different approaches for the country. “You see, we believe that ‘We’re all in this together’ is a far better philosophy than ‘You’re on your own,'” he said.

The former president also blasted GOP vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., for attacking the president for cutting $716 billion in Medicare as part of the 2010 health reform law, noting that Ryan included the same savings in his House budget plan. “You got to give one thing: It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did,” Clinton charged.

Clinton also accused Republicans of going too far with their dislike of the president. “Now, there’s something I’ve noticed lately. You probably have, too. And it’s this. Maybe just because I grew up in a different time, but though I often disagree with Republicans, I actually never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate our president and a lot of other Democrats,” he said.

The former president added: “One of the main reasons we ought to re-elect President Obama is that he is still committed to constructive cooperation.”

Watch here or below:

And here is the video that introduced Clinton, which does indeed include Fleetwood Mac.

Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren made it through her entire speech without mentioning her Nov. 6 rival Sen. Scott Brown, who is counting on Obama voters to back him if he wants to win a full term in the strongly Democratic state.

But she left plenty of room to sharply criticize Romney while outlining the Democrats’ vision for boosting the middle class.

Here is a key section from her address:

People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here’s the painful part: they’re right. The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. Wall Street CEOs–the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs–still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them.

Anyone here have a problem with that? Well I do. I talk to small business owners all across Massachusetts.

Not one of them–not one–made big bucks from the risky Wall Street bets that brought down our economy. I talk to nurses and programmers, salespeople and firefighters–people who bust their tails every day. Not one of them–not one–stashes their money in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

Watch Warren’s full speech here or below.

The NewsHour had a jam-packed convention special with Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff interviewing top-tier guests in and out of the skybox all evening.

Ray Suarez looked at the importance of the Latino vote in a piece you can watch here.

Analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks weighed in on the first night of the convention and looked ahead to the Clinton and Warren addresses.

Gwen, Judy, Mark and David talked with Wisconsin Senate candidate Rep. Tammy Baldwin. Watch their discussion.

The NewsHour also took a look at how the president has framed the auto bailout with two members of Congress representing people deeply affected by the industry. Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and Michigan Sen. Carl Levin pushed the administration’s talking point about the bailout being politically unpopular but the right thing to do.

“The president helped save the auto industry. It was critically important that that be done. A million jobs have been saved,” Levin said.

Ryan told a story of a plant helped in his state, and added a critique of Ohio’s Republican governor: “For John Kasich to address the nation last week and not even mention the auto bailout shows how politicized this has actually become.”

Watch that here.

Gwen, Judy, Mark and David also chatted with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who on Wednesday relinquished his role with the president’s campaign so he can advise the pro-Obama super PAC. Watch that here.

Caroline Kennedy stopped by the NewsHour skybox. So did Tuesday keynote speaker Julian Castro. Watch that here.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa responded to the platform kerfuffle, in which wording about Jerusalem and God was temporarily removed, in a conversation on the NewsHour. Watch here.

The NewsHour captured a bunch of the speeches on our YouTube page.

Here is Sandra Fluke.

Here is Cristina Saralegui.

Here is Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood.

Here is the Congressional Black Caucus.


Our livestream lineup:

  • Political Checklist with Christina, Gwen and Judy around 11 a.m. ET
  • The Doubleheader with Hari Sreenivasan, Mark Shields and David Brooks around 5 p.m.
  • Interviews with journalists, newsmakers and NewsHour staff.
  • Dispatches from our team on the floor.
  • GoPro hatcam!

And what the heck is hatcam, you ask? Hari explained in a piece we ran on the NewsHour Wednesday night. Watch here or below.

Keep an eye on our Flickr feed for images from the convention by freelancer Jared Soares (@jaredsoares). Every image in the stream is free for use under a Creative Commons license.







  • Christina’s hometown paper, the San Jose Mercury News, looks at convention speakers using the Bible.
  • Nathan Gonzales was the first to confirm that ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will deliver the Pledge of Allegiance Thursday at the convention.
  • Kaiser Health News examines what has been said about “Obamacare” during the convention.
  • The Pew Research Center finds that “the public’s one-word descriptions for Obama reflect the mixed views of his presidency. The top positive words are good and trying, while the most frequently used negative descriptions are failure and incompetent.” (Four years ago, the word was “inexperienced.”)


7 p.m. ET hour: Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin, performance by the Foo Fighters

8 p.m. hour: Caroline Kennedy, Georgia Rep. John Lewis, actress Eva Longoria and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist

9 p.m. hour: Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Jill Biden, Vice President Joe Biden

10 p.m. hour: President Obama

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah, @meenaganesan and @abbruns.

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