Parties Firm Attack Strategies as Convention Approaches

Parties lay out campaign themes as Democrats gather in Charlotte.

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – As the spotlight shifts from last week’s Republican convention in Tampa to the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., the battle of ideas is boiling down to the question of the present versus the future.

The convention’s message this week is about “laying a roadmap of where America needs to go to provide a lasting economic recovery,” as convention chairman and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa put it at the convention’s opening press conference on Monday.

The Obama campaign has also been looking to the future, asking voters to consider whether Republican nominee Mitt Romney has policy ideas that can speed a flagging recovery. At a campaign stop in Colorado this week, the president accused Romney of being light on the specifics in his GOP convention acceptance speech.

“When Governor Romney finally had a chance to reveal the secret sauce, he did not offer a single new idea. It was just retreads of the same old policies we’ve been hearing for decades, the same policies that have been sticking it to the middle class for years,” the president told voters in Colorado on Sunday.

Obama isn’t the only one criticizing Romney on this count; the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page criticized the former Massachusetts governor’s speech for the same reasons.

“He and Paul Ryan promised to help the middle class, but they never explained other than in passing how they would do it,” wrote the paper’s editors.

The president wants voters to trust that his future guidance will boost the economy, but Romney’s strategy is to shift the focus to the present, asking Americans to assess whether they are better off than they were four years ago.

That question may already be causing problems for the president. On the Sunday talk show circuit, Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, White House advisor David Plouffe, and top Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod were unable to give unequivocal yeses to that question, which many commentators are taking to be a sign of weakness from the campaign.

Then again, answering with a firm yes or no is virtually impossible. Unemployment is higher now than when the president took office, at 8.3 percent versus 7.8 percent in January 2009. However, trajectory is also important. On that count, the economy is doing better—while GDP was in freefall at the start of the Obama presidency, at a negative 5.3 percent in the first quarter of 2009, it is now growing, albeit painfully slowly, at 1.7 percent last quarter.

With a lineup of speakers including First Lady Michelle Obama, Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and former president Bill Clinton —not to mention the President himself—Democrats will work to counter the “are you better off?” message this week. Meanwhile, they may also face trouble from a more nonpartisan foe: Mother Nature. While Democrats are not facing a hurricane, as their GOP counterparts did in Tampa, their convention will conclude on Thursday in an open stadium—with a chance of thunderstorms looming.

Still, convention organizers say that a little bad weather won’t ruin their plans.

“Right now it is rain or shine,” said convention committee CEO Steve Kerrigan at Monday’s press conference.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter at @titonka or via E-mail at dkurtzleben@usnews.com.