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Democrats and Obama: What enthusiasm gap?

September 06, 2012|By James Rainey
  • A cardboard cutout of President Obama at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
A cardboard cutout of President Obama at the Democratic National Convention… (Bran van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Conventional wisdom coming into the Democratic National Convention had it that the party of Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton suffered a fatal enthusiasm deficit. Barack Obama’s “hope and change” message had been forever lost, it was said, by 3 1/2 years of recession.

Although the weight of governing clearly has leached some of the starry optimism from the Democrats, they still managed plenty of ardor over the first two days at their big party here. President Obama will try to keep the populist thunder rolling with his speech Thursday night.

The Democrats greeted favorites like Michelle Obama and President Clinton rhapsodically. Many in the crowd Wednesday night stayed on their feet for 10 minutes after Clinton took the stage. They gave standing ovations even for lesser-knowns, such as San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and reproductive rights activist Sandra Fluke.

PHOTOS: Protests of the DNC

This won’t win an election by itself. But it stands in stark rebuttal to the grim prognostications and in contrast to the group affect emanating from the crowd at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., last week.

It was amazing to watch the Tampa Bay Times Forum empty out instantly after Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech a week ago. After a perfunctory celebration, delegates gathered their gear and headed off for their final parties. The balloons dropped from the ceiling, but the air had gone out of the party.

This might be because many of the delegates may have started their 2012 journey backing other candidates. Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum all made a run at true conservative hearts. When Romney’s money, organization and improved debating skills prevailed, many in the GOP settled for him.

Nominating everyone's second choice is not exactly a recipe for building a wave of enthusiasm come general election time. But Republicans believe to their core that Obama is such an abject failure that they shouldn’t have to offer much in alternative to send him back to Chicago.

They collectively might as well be channeling the old “Saturday Night Live” skit in which Michael Dukakis (played by Jon Lovitz) can’t believe he is losing to a stumbling George H.W. Bush. In this case, the roles are reversed and Republicans feel like they can see the obvious loser.

PHOTOS: Scenes from the DNC

“I can’t believe I am losing to this guy,” went the Lovitz/Dukakis refrain. Republicans can’t believe they are losing to Barack Obama. He so obviously hates America – their thinking goes -- so loves socialism and wants to turn America into a second-rate nation. It must be only a matter of time before the 5% or so of the population that remains undecided comes to this obvious conclusion.

Maybe the undecideds will tilt that way in the end. Then America will welcome President Romney. But it would help if his supporters at least pretended like they liked him more. Democrats, who were supposed to be too tired for hope, meanwhile seem to be having a good old time with their president.

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james.rainey@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesrainey

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