DENVER—Barack Obama has a great opportunity to frame the fall campaign and take a big step toward victory in November if this week's Democratic National Convention goes well, according to two centrist Democrats who advised Bill Clinton.
"Obama has to make the sale," especially to white working class voters without college degrees, says Al From, founder and chief executive officer of the Democratic Leadership Council. Those voters have been skeptical that Obama truly understands their lives and would represent their interests but "they are open to being sold," From added.
Many Americans also aren't sure Obama has the "strength and toughness" to be commander in chief, and he needs to demonstrate those traits when he gives his speech accepting the presidential nomination Thursday night, From says.
Bruce Reed, the DLC president, argued that Obama is actually a "pragmatist" who will "do what works," not the left-wing ideologue that some Republicans say he is. "That's the central tenet of Clintonism," and in that sense Obama is heir to the former president's approach to governing, which was popular with the public. But Obama still must find a way to convey that impression of pragmatism to voters who have their doubts about him.
From agreed, saying that both Obama and Clinton share a commitment to opportunity, hope, and responsibility. "What Obama needs to do is to give that definition" to America Thursday in his acceptance speech.
Reed says the country's problems today are worse than the ones that Bill Clinton faced when he took office in January 1993 so the challenges are greater. The economy had been in a trough during the 1992 campaign, Reed says, but "the financial crisis this time is a lot scarier and more profound" and the threats to national security are worse.
From and Reed made their comments in a joint interview with U.S. News Monday. They are attending the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
Asked about the mood among Democrats at the convention, Reed says: "We're the way we always are—optimistic, hopeful, nervous, concerned. We ought to win, [but we're] worried that the country might not agree on the day that matters."