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First thoughts: Obama's biggest speech

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
DENVER -- In a presidential contest filled with unpredictability, there has been this one constant: When the time calls for it, Barack Obama can deliver a speech. He did it when he announced his presidential bid in Springfield, IL back in February 2007. He did it again with his speech on race after the Jeremiah Wright controversy, as well as in Germany, where he addressed a crowd of 200,000. And then there was that little keynote speech Obama gave at the previous Democratic convention, which launched his national profile. Now, just four years later, he's back as his party's presidential nominee, and given what's at stake -- the keys to the White House -- tonight's speech at Invesco Field in front of an estimated 75,000 people is undoubtedly the biggest of his life. And it just so happens to occur on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech. Chief strategist David Axelrod told NBC/NJ's Athena Jones and other reporters yesterday that Obama will talk about "the risks of continuing down the road we're on, which is plainly what Sen. McCain is offering. And he's gonna talk about an alternative path that's rooted in the best of what this country is and the kind of future that we can build if we take it." Axelrod added that Obama's goal is to talk to the American people directly about the challenges the country faces and what it will take to solve them.

*** The Clintons owned the Pepsi Center: Well, for the part of the convention that took place in the Pepsi Center, the Clintons arguably gave the two best speeches, with Michelle Obama and Ted Kennedy both deserving of the top two spots as well. There were a couple of others that stood out, including the stem-winder delivered by Brian Schweitzer on Tuesday night. All of this is another way of saying, the bar is not too high for Obama tonight. But it's also another way of saying that Biden speech fell a tad short of expectations. (You could tell that having just three or four days to prepare for a big convention speech was a tall order. But the Obama folks don't expect him to deliver big speeches. They expect him to deliver on the stump.) In short, the Clintons owned the Pepsi Center; it's now up to Obama to own Invesco.

*** A split-screen day? Drudge was the first yesterday to shout this news: "McCain has decided on his running mate" and will unveil that choice tomorrow. Other news organizations soon followed. Indeed, it could be a split-screen news day with half the press corps desperately trying to break the McCain VP news before tomorrow. Just like last week, there's a contingent of the press corps that believes the short list of Pawlenty, Lieberman, and Romney may NOT be the end of the list. Speculation that a woman is being considered has created separate credible rumors today about Kay Bailey Hutchison, Sarah Palin, and Meg Whitman. McCain is more capable of a surprise than Obama. Then again, McCain wants to be respectful of the short list, since he spent his fair share of time on it in '88, '96 and even '00. The general consensus today seems to be that Romney's stock is down; Pawlenty's is steady; and Lieberman's up.

*** Mother Nature against the GOP? As if the Republican Party didn't have enough going against them, Mother Nature does not look like a political ally as the possibility of a serious hurricane bearing down on the US coast during the GOP convention. There's no way of speculating about what it means other than to say -- it is what it is, and nobody can do anything about it other than prepare citizens for the storm. But the last thing McCain needs is a reminder of Hurricane Katrina, whose three-year anniversary comes tomorrow.

*** Today's convention schedule: Thursday's theme is "Change You Can Believe In." The featured speaker, of course, is Obama. Other notable speakers include (in order): Gov. Bill Ritter and the Colorado congressional delegation, Howard Dean, Rep. John Lewis (as part of a tribute to the 45th anniversary of MLK's "I have a dream speech), Gov. Bill Richardson, Gov. Tim Kaine, Al Gore, and then Sen. Dick Durbin, who introduces Obama. Also, Jennifer Hudson sings the National Anthem and Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson gives the Pledge of Allegiance.

*** The RNC's response: Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. Jon Kyl, former US Treasurer Rosario Marin, and Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams hold an RNC-sponsored press conference to argue that Obama is wrong on national security.

*** Also in Denver: There's a unity breakfast with civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King III and Al Sharpton, to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the "I Have A Dream" speech, at 9:30 am ET at the Colorado Convention Center.

*** On the trail: McCain arrives in Vandalia, OH in advance of his big rally tomorrow in Dayton. Obama delivers his address accepting the Democratic nomination.
Countdown to GOP convention: 4 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 68 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 145 days
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