Visualize a four-night national U.S. political convention as a 4 X 400 meter relay race in the Olympics. The Dems started disastrously indulgently Monday night by highlighting the ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Obama's wife, Michelle, the first night. Then Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., stole the show the second night with a knockout 20-minute speech that left her looking a whole lot hotter than Obama.
Daily tracking data confirmed Obama, D-Ill., got no "bounce" in the polls after they spoke. He even slipped back a bit, allowing Republican contender Sen. John McCain of Arizona to actually take the lead in the race.
It took Bill Clinton, the Old Master himself, to put Obama's train back on the right track. Clinton's speech Wednesday night at the convention was a masterpiece of style and substance: He spelled out with concision, precision and wit what the issues were and how the Democrats' take on them differed from that of the Republicans. And he did so in his classic folksy style. It was the first major set piece of this convention that didn't backfire or go nowhere -- like former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner's rather plodding advertisement for himself Tuesday that went down well where it was supposed to -- in Virginia.
Biden, D-Del., wasn't in Bill Clinton's class -- there hasn't been a national Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in his heyday who could match Bill Clinton for his instinct at getting a liberal message across to the American heartland. But after 36 years in the U.S. Senate, Biden is nothing if not a seasoned old pol. He knew what his job was and he hit all his marks. There probably hasn't been as good an attack speech on a Republican candidate at a Democratic convention since Texas Gov. Ann Richards assailed President George H.W. Bush, the current president's father, 20 years ago for being born with a silver foot in his mouth.
Of course, none of Richards' exuberant attack-dog viciousness could prevent the elder Bush from skinning alive Democratic nominee Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Bill Clinton gave a similar, masterful performance at the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston, and even then he couldn't save Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic nominee that year, from going catatonic when he was hammered over the Swift boat controversy.
Still, Clinton and Biden pulled out all the stops to recover Obama's lost ground for him on Night Three of the convention and gave him a first-class handover of the baton for his climactic performance tonight.
Obama will have no problem sending the Democratic faithful into raptures: that has become second nature for him. No Democrat since Bill Clinton himself has spoken so compellingly well.
The rock music Thursday night will be great, and the rhetoric will be inspirational. Everyone knows that. But Obama will have to rise above -- or work much more substantively below -- his usual soaring rhetoric to swing to his side the millions of key waverers. He will have to get far more specific about his policies and make a far more detailed and compelling case why his plans to switch the American economy over to alternative energy, restore the fiscal stability of the U.S. government and lay the groundwork for a new generation of restored economic prosperity and growth will work. So far, Blue Collar America hasn't been buying.