CHARLOTTE, N.C.—President Obama has one overriding imperative when he addresses the Democrats and the nation tonight: He needs to lay out his plan for the next four years, letting voters know where he will take the country if they give him a second term.
Former President Bill Clinton's home run of a speech last night went a long way toward setting the stage for Obama this evening. Using plain talk and homespun rhetoric, Clinton told the story of the last four years in a masterful way that has to date eluded President Obama and his staff. "Bill Clinton last night explained in 45 minutes much better the Obama administration than the Obama administration has been able to do in four years," CBS News's Bob Schieffer said at a breakfast panel this morning.
In addition, he methodically took on and demolished the various lines of attack Republicans have laid out against Obama, on Medicare, welfare reform, the debt, and other issues. In essence, said consultant Maria Echaveste, Clinton was clearing away the political "underbrush" for Obama. By taking care of discussing and defending the last four years, Clinton set "a frame for the president to speak almost entirely about the future," said Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg.
And the future is what voters want to hear about the most, strategists say. "The number one question we get in our focus groups is, 'I just don't know exactly what his plan is; I wish he would tell us, what is his plan,'" says pollster Celinda Lake.
Voters, said pollster Peter Hart, want "an example of where the next four years go. One thing American voters have to know is that the second term of Barack Obama is better than the first term. … They've set everything up … but there's only one person who can do it and that has to be the president."