From where Democrats sit, things are looking pretty good for their chances of holding on to the White House after the general election in November.
Coming out of the party’s national convention in North Carolina last week, President Obama received a spike in the polls, with at least one survey giving him a six percentage-point lead over Republican rival Mitt Romney.
“On the presidential level they (Democrats) feel comfortable because not only has there been a bounce in the national polls, but in key states, state polls have also seen an increase for Obama,” said Dotty Lynch, professor of public communication at American University and a long-time political analyst and pollster.
“New polls also show for the first time that Obama supporters are a little more enthusiastic for Obama than Romney’s [are for him],” she added.
The news has Democrats patting themselves on the back—though not too heartily.
“I don’t think they are overconfident,” Lynch said, “but they feel like they accomplished what they set out to do.”
What Democrats did in Charlotte was to rev up their core constituencies. Speakers such as Michelle Obama and Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University student whom Rush Limbaugh called a slut when she testified in favor of having insurance plans cover contraception, appealed to women; actors Kal Pen, of the Harold and Kumar series, and Scarlett Johansson appealed to younger voters; San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and Cristina Saralegui, the “Latin Oprah,” appealed to Hispanics; Reps. John Lewis, a venerable civil rights leader from Georgia,” and Missouri Democrat Emanuel Cleaver appealed to African Americans; and former President Bill Clinton, in his inimitable, pragmatic style, appealed to independents and older Whites.
And they all cooperated to make the case for why Obama—and not Romney—should serve at the nation’s helm for another four years.
“The convention was very effective in highlighting the differences between what the Romney-Ryan ticket is standing for and what President Obama is standing for,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), a delegate at the convention.
But political experts and others warn that Democrats can only ride on the convention high for so long and that the race to the White House remains a tight one.
In a public memo issued Sept. 10, Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said people shouldn’t “get too worked up” over the latest polling.
“While some voters will feel a bit of a sugar-high from the conventions, the basic structure of the race has not changed significantly,” he wrote. “The reality of the Obama economy will reassert itself as the ultimate downfall of the Obama Presidency, and Mitt Romney will win this race.”
The inert economy—underscored by an August jobs report that depicted inadequate job creation and a disillusioned work force—remains Obama’s Achilles’ heel. Disappointment over the state of the country’s growth has turned a once zealous army of liberal Obama enthusiasts into troops of disenchanted volunteers and voters.
Independents, who in 2008 thought to give an un-tried hope-and-change peddler a chance, are now considering whether Romney, who has a record as a successful businessman, wouldn’t do a better job of revitalizing the economy.
“It (2008) was a more hopeful time…[And] I think Obama’s campaign made a mistake in overpromising what he could do,” Lynch said of the enthusiasm gap among Democratic voters. “It’s a more realistic time now.”
And because it is, Democrats will have a hard time in maintaining and translating to voters the level of excitement generated at the convention.
“They definitely helped themselves with the convention, but whether they can get their key supporters to come out and vote is the question,” Lynch added. “And that’s where Obama’s campaign needs to focus.”
Cummings, who is a surrogate for the Obama campaign, agreed.
“I am doing everything in my power to rally people out to vote,”the Maryland Democrat said, expressing concern about a somewhat apathetic electorate.
“My concern is that people will look at the polls and be excited about the convention and the bump the president received as result of the convention, [but] I don’t want them to get overconfident because there are so many forces working to keep us from voting,” he continued. “If people get too comfortable and confident they could say, ‘He’s got in it in the bag so he doesn’t need my vote.”
The Congressional Black Caucus member also expressed concern over the impact of Republican-led voter suppression efforts and also voter confusion created by changing election laws.
“Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been pushing people to make sure and check their registration status and ensure that they have a proper ID when they go to vote,” he said.
Voter education will be among the key messages conveyed by about 40 Obama surrogates as they travel to swing states during the next couple of months, Cummings said. But mostly, the key message will be that another four years of the Obama administration is necessary for the future of the nation.
“What we’re going to have to do is go out and almost try to [make the case for Obama] as great as the (convention) speakers said it,” he said. “We’ve got to use the same points and lay it out in the systematic way that Clinton did and have the emotion that was conveyed by Mrs. Obama. That’s how we’re going to get people to the polls.”