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Race and Beyond: 3 Takeaways from the Democratic National Convention

Democratic National Convention

SOURCE: AP/Patrick Semansky

President Barack Obama finishes his speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Thursday, September 6, 2012.

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Without further ado, here are the three things I brought back from last week’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina:

1. Unlike the GOP, Democrats look like America.

The television cameras didn’t lie. Even if the news photographers wanted to shoot an alternative portrait, they couldn’t avoid capturing a portrait of diversity. The folks in the audience at the Time Warner Cable Arena represented the rich array of American people.

From the klieg-lit stage to the nosebleed seats in the rafters (where I sat), the diversity of America was on full display. So much so that Jon Stewart’s hilarious sendup was the subject of a CNN item.

The multicultural display of party support wasn’t confined to the stage, unlike at the preceding week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, where invited tokens and showcase minority speakers comprised a “disproportionate parade of diversity.” Meanwhile, off stage, the audience was the hardcore support of the GOP—a sea of white (and mostly male) faces.

Indeed, the lack of racial and ethnic diversity at the GOP confab drew media attention and even prompted Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina to make a shockingly honest observation. “The demographics race we’re losing badly,” Sen. Graham (R-SC) told The Washington Post. “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”

This is no exaggeration. At its own peril, the GOP risks going the way of the Whigs as an oncoming wave of demographic change washes over America.  According to the National Journal‘s Ron Brownstein, the lack of diversity in the GOP means its presidential nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is almost totally dependent on an unlikely percentage of white voters to get elected.

“A GOP coalition that relies almost entirely on whites could squeeze out one more narrow victory in November,” Brownstein wrote recently. “But if Republicans can’t find more effective ways to bridge the priorities of their conservative core and the diversifying Next America, that weight will grow more daunting every year.”

If Charlotte was a harbinger, Democrats have a considerable advantage in the diversity department.

2. Unless you’re Bill Clinton, it’s not easy to make 20,000 people pay attention when making a political speech.

Let’s face it: Very few people give their full attention to the speeches at a political convention.

Most of the time at the Democratic National Convention, a congressional leader or local elected official was shouting at the podium, serving up pre-tested sound bites to a cavernous hall filled with people doing everything but listening to what was being said.

But that definitely wasn’t the case when former President Bill Clinton took the stage on the second day of the convention. Having covered his run for the White House in 1992 and 1996, I knew what to look for. If President Clinton did that quivering, bottom-lip biting thing four times in the first minute, it meant he was feeling the crowd and the speech would be on and jumping.

I counted six bottom-lip bites in the first 30 seconds. People are still talking about that speech.

3. Democrats are excited about their nominee.

Of course delegates will say they’re hot for their candidate. That’s expected. But what do likely voters say? Ah, that’s the test for the nominees just after they’ve been hyped at their conventions.

Prior to the Democrats’ visit to Charlotte, much was made of the appearance of a lackluster enthusiasm gap—the imprecise term political scientists and pundits use to describe how excited base supporters are for their party’s candidate. That’s probably because they were comparing President Barack Obama of 2012 to candidate Obama of 2008.

Four years ago candidate Obama benefited from the excitement generated by the novelty of his rock-star campaign. Now, saddled with the burdens of a sluggish economy and constant political attacks, many observers wondered whether the hoopla was only a memory.

It’s unlikely any candidate can replicate the drama and excitement surrounding the campaign and election of the nation’s first black president. Not even now-President Obama. But if we are to believe the early polling, the Charlotte convention produced a measurable bounce in the president’s support among likely voters.

Indeed, as the Democrats headed home Friday after cheering President Obama’s acceptance speech the night before, early national polls suggested “a big bounce for Obama from this year’s convention,” according to The Nation’s Greg Mitchell, who tracks a wide array of political polls.

By yesterday evening Mitchell updated his blog to reflect growing excitement in President Obama’s nominating convention wake. Even a disappointing jobs report, released the day after the president’s speech, didn’t dampen Democrats’ excitement, he blogged. “The first of today’s daily tracking polls is out and GOP-friendly Rasmussen continues to find a post-DNC surge for Obama, with the president widening his lead over Romney to 5 percent, the highest mark for him since last March,” Mitchell crowed. “Well, it’s not as if I didn’t warn them.”

Elections prognosticator Nate Silver, who writes the FiveThirtyEight blog for The New York Times, offered a less self-congratulatory take, but it’s just as favorable for the president. “I don’t want to lose the larger point that the data flow over the past several days has been very positive for Mr. Obama,” Silver wrote yesterday, “especially in comparison to the small bounce that Mr. Romney received after his convention.”

Bottom line: The DNC helped President Obama more than the GOP convention aided Gov. Romney. No more Democratic enthusiasm gap.

Sam Fulwood III is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Director of the CAP Leadership Institute. His work with the Center’s Progress 2050 project examines the impact of policies on the nation when there will be no clear racial or ethnic majority by the year 2050. 

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This is part of a regular column: Race and Beyond

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