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First Thoughts: Feeling good

Dems feeling good heading into their convention… But feeling good isn’t the same thing as being in good shape… Obama camp tries to change the “Are you better off?” question to “Are you going to be better off tomorrow?”… The past vs. the future… Disappointment vs. achievement… Breaking down this week’s convention schedule, as well as the GOP counterprogramming… Romney ahead in NC, per Elon poll… Obama stumps in OH and heads to New Orleans, while Ryan campaigns in Greenville, NC… And Akin defenders invoke Giffords to whack Rove.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Heading into their convention here this week, the Obama campaign and Democrats are feeling pretty good after Tampa. The polls -- see Gallup, for example -- suggest that Mitt Romney got little to no bounce from the GOP convention, at least so far. Romney’s speech, while addressing his likeability and gender gaps, is still being criticized for what it omitted. (Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page’s verdict from over the weekend: Romney and Paul Ryan “promised to help the middle class, but they never explained other than in passing how they would do it.”) And then there was the whole Clint Eastwood debacle. So Democrats are feeling good, but feeling good isn’t the same as being in good shape. Indeed, the presidential race remains close and competitive. And all the shortcomings from last week only put pressure on the Democrats to do better.

In Charlotte, Democrats are poised to insist that their economic vision is better for America than that outlined by Mitt Romney; they insist the country is better off than it was four years ago. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

*** Trying to change the question: “Are you better off than you were four years?” That’s the question that Republicans are raising this week, and it’s one that Democrats have been unable to definitively answer (see Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and top Obama campaign officials yesterday). So the Obama camp and Democrats have been trying to change the question around to this: “Are you going to be better off tomorrow, and who is best positioned to get you there?” According to Obama campaign officials, that question will be the primary theme of this week’s Democratic convention, which kicks off in earnest beginning tomorrow. It’s something that President Obama touched on in his first campaign rally at Ohio State University in May. “Will we better off if more Americans get a better education? That's the question… Will we better off if we start doing some nation-building right here at home? That's the question. Will we be better off if we bring down our deficit without gutting the very things we need to grow?” This where-we-need-to-go question is also the subject of a brand-new Obama TV ad. “Romney hits the middle class harder and gives millionaires an even bigger break,” the ad goes. “Is that the way forward for America?”

The president's Deputy Campaign Manager, Stephanie Cutter, joins Chuck Todd to talk about what the President will say during his convention speech and how he will touch on last week's Republican convention.

*** The past vs. the future: As we pointed out last week, Mitt Romney’s nostalgic-sounding convention speech, as well as his refusal to differentiate his policies from the Bush administration’s, gave the Obama campaign an opening to talk about the future this week. And it gave them an additional opening to argue that Romney represents the past. Hence Obama’s line on Saturday that viewers might as well have watched last week’s GOP convention “on a black-and-white TV." Or Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s comment on “Meet the Press” yesterday that Romney’s speech amounted to “Groundhog Day.” So here’s how the race is shaping with Election Day nearly two months from today: The Romney camp is focused on the past (litigating the last four years and promising to “restore the promise of America”), while the Obama camp is focused on arguing about the future (“Forward”). By the way, it’s worth noting that after Democrats looked afraid of answering the are-you-better-off-than-you-were-four-years-ago question, Deputy Obama Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter answered “yes” to the question on “TODAY” this morning, as did O’Malley. It was probably a realization that yesterday’s dodges weren’t all that productive and might have done some damage.

David Zalubowski / AP

President Barack Obama waves as he walks on stage during campaign stop on the campus of the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo., on Sunday, Sept. 2, 2012.

*** Disappointment vs. achievement: Out of all the messages in Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech last week, this one might have been his most effective: Obama has been a disappointment. “I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed. But his promises gave way to disappointment and division,” Romney said. This “disappointment” theme has been the subject of numerous GOP TV ads this cycle (here and here and here), and even a New York Times piece late last week. But to counter the theme, Democrats this week will point to the achievements during the first three and a half years of the Obama administration. The end of the Iraq war and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The enactment -- no matter their imperfections -- of health-care and financial reform. The stimulus and auto bailout that stopped the economy’s free-fall. And the death of Osama bin Laden. As Emanuel said on “Meet the Press” yesterday, “If people want to know about the first term, very simple: General Motors is alive and well and Osama bin Laden is not. And that's what got done.”

*** Failing to change Washington: But here’s one key promise on which Obama failed to deliver: change Washington and move past all the political fights of the past (on the role of government, social issues, etc.). This is the subject of a terrific piece by the Washington Post’s Dan Balz. “Instead of bipartisanship, there is polarization as deep as it has been in modern times. Instead of cooperation, there is confrontation. Instead of civility, there is rudeness. The political system seems frozen and more resistant to compromise than ever.” And Balz’s article traces who’s to blame for this state of politics -- Dems say Republicans never cooperated from the outset, while GOPers fire back that Obama and the Democrats tried to ram down a partisan agenda. And the piece asks the question: Would Obama’s re-election change things? That’s one question Obama needs to answer on Thursday…

*** This week’s schedule: Here are the major speakers for the three nights of the Democratic convention here in Charlotte:
Tuesday: Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, and First Lady Michelle Obama
Wednesday: Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Sandra Fluke, California AG Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Bill Clinton
Thursday: Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Dr. Jill Biden, Vice President Joe Biden, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, and President Obama

Chairman of the RNC, Reince Priebus, joins Chuck Todd from Charlotte to talk about the Republican's "Obama isn't working" campaign that's being launched this week.

*** The GOP’s counterprogramming activities: Republicans will be out in full force here in Charlotte this week. Democrats had planned to do the same thing in Tampa, but Isaac largely scrapped that. So you have VP nominee Paul Ryan campaigning in nearby Greenville, NC. Also, at 1:00 pm ET in Charlotte, RNC Chair Reince Priebus and Rep. Jason Chaffetz hold a press conference unveiling the GOP’s “Obama Isn't Working' Rapid Response Center.” And NBC’s Jamie Novogrod confirms that Republicans Nikki Haley, Marco Rubio, and Bob McDonnell will traveling to Charlotte, too.

*** Romney ahead in NC: Romney leads in North Carolina 47%-43%, according to a new Elon University poll out today, the day the Democratic National Convention here begins. “One reason for Romney’s edge: By a margin of 52 percent to 39 percent, North Carolina voters say he would do a better job handling the economy,” the Charlotte Observer writes. The poll also found that Obama doesn’t enjoy the same support among women in North Carolina that he does elsewhere and nationally. Among men, Romney leads by 12, but among women, the candidates are tied.

*** On the trail today: Obama gives a Labor Day speech in Toledo, OH at 12:30 pm ET and then heads to New Orleans to inspect the damage from Hurricane Isaac… Vice President Biden holds a rally in Detroit, MI… Romney is down, but Ryan holds his aforementioned rally in Greenville, NC at 1:20 pm.

*** On the trail tomorrow: Obama holds a campaign event in Norfolk, VA at 12:35 pm ET… Ryan campaigns in Cedar Rapids, IA at 2:30 pm.

*** Akin defenders invoke Giffords to whack Rove: Did the GOP establishment lose the high ground after Karl Rove reportedly told attendees at a fundraiser: "We should sink Todd Akin. If he's found mysteriously murdered, don't look for my whereabouts!"? Note how Akin defenders pounced on the comment -- they invoked the Jan. 2011 shooting of Gabby Giffords. “In the age of Gabby Giffords, it is not a joke to say that a member of Congress ought to get murdered,” Newt Gingrich said on “Meet the Press” yesterday. Mike Huckabee said something similar, per CNN: "In light of the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, the remark was disturbing."

Countdown to 1st presidential debate: 30 days
Countdown to VP debate: 38 days
Countdown to 2nd presidential debate: 43 days
Countdown to 3rd presidential debate: 49 days
Countdown to Election Day: 64 days

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