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First Thoughts: Obama makes his case

Obama makes his case… He does it by setting up the choice, trying to turn Romney into a punch line, and arguing that now isn’t the time to change horses… Who won the last two weeks? Hard not to conclude that it was Obama and the Dems… But who won the jobs report? Hard not to think it was Romney and the GOP... The economy added 96,000 jobs but unemployment rate drops to 8.1%...  What Obama accomplished and didn’t accomplish… Romney’s new TV ad blitz… And both Obama and Romney stump in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd talks about President Barack Obama's DNC speech Thursday night in comparison to his previous ones.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It probably won’t go down as one of his most memorable or poetic addresses, but President Obama’s acceptance speech last night served several purposes -- it attempted to rally his base, tried to take advantage of the opening his opponent left for him, and it looked to define the election as a choice. Motivating his supporters two months before Election Day, Obama said, “If you turn away now, if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn't possible, well, change will not happen. If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void.” He seized on Romney not mentioning Afghanistan last week, and he devoted a larger-than-expected share of the night to national security. “My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy, but from all that we've seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly.” And after Romney’s very nostalgic speech that focused on the past, Obama’s address concentrated mostly on the future. “Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And I'm asking you to choose that future.”

*** Setting up the choice, turning Romney into a punch line, and arguing that now isn’t the time to change horses: Obama did a few more things in his speech. He attempted to make the case this is a choice election, using the words “choice” or “choose” more than 20 times. “The choice you face won’t just be between two candidates or two parties. It will be a choice between two different paths for America.” He tried to turn Romney into a punch line. “You don't call Russia our number one enemy -- and not al Qaeda -- unless you're still stuck in a Cold War time warp,” he said. “You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally.” And Obama argued that now isn’t the time to change horses. “The truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades. It will require common effort, shared responsibility.” 

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama waves on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

*** Who won the last two weeks? The answer: Obama and the Dems:  Last week, the consensus was that Mitt Romney gave a good speech for Romney... Today, some are judging Obama on not meeting the height of past speeches, as well as this week’s other addresses by Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton. But when you compare Romney’s speech with Obama’s and the GOP convention vs. the Dem convention, it’s easy to conclude that Obama and the Democrats won the past two weeks. Indeed, maybe the best way to judge the Democratic convention isn’t by Obama’s speech last night but rather by the whole three days. You saw the building up of Obama the man by Michelle; the contrast and the economic narrative from Bill Clinton; and the way forward from Obama. Another way to look at it -- Michelle put down the building blocks, Clinton put up the walls, and Obama put on the roof. Beyond a concerted effort to make Romney more likeable, you didn’t see the same thing last week in Tampa. And now we head to the post-convention polls, and perhaps the best way to look at any bounce isn’t by the head-to-head numbers, but rather by what each side set out to do. So for Romney, let’s look to see if his favorability numbers increase. And for Obama, let’s see if those enthusiasm/interest numbers go up.  

*** Who won the jobs report? The answer: Romney and the GOP: But the last two weeks aren’t over, and that brings us to today’s other big story: the August job numbers. The economy added 96,000 jobs, which was below expectations. But the unemployment rate dropped from 8.3% to 8.1%. It was four years ago when, the morning after Barack Obama’s acceptance speech in Denver, John McCain announced his selection of Sarah Palin, which quickly changed the story. And history repeats itself today with another big story -- the monthly jobs coming -- coming the morning after Obama’s acceptance speech here last night. Expect the job numbers to be the backdrop of Obama and Romney both criss-crossing between Iowa and New Hampshire today, with the president stumping in the Granite State first and then heading to the Hawkeye State, while Romney starts in Iowa and ends in New Hampshire. 

*** What Obama accomplished (and what he didn’t): Returning to Obama’s speech last night, we listed four challenges that he needed to meet. First, convince viewers his economic policies are better than Romney’s. On that score, he definitely made the case that the Romney/GOP approach on tax cuts, less regulation isn’t the way to go. But he didn’t persuasively argue that his approach is the best. (However, Clinton probably made that point for him the night before.) Second, describe how he would break the partisan fever in Washington. But he didn’t address this at all, and it might have been the speech’s biggest shortcoming (although one of his messages last night was how the bottom up can create change). Third, lay out what he could achieve in a second term. On that score, Obama pointed to several concrete -- if not necessarily new -- things. Examples: boost manufacturing by rewarding companies that create jobs in the U.S., recruit 100,000 new math and science teachers in the next 10 years, reduce debt based on the principles of the Simpson-Bowles commission. And fourth, rekindle enthusiasm and excitement, which might have turned out to be the biggest accomplishment from his speech and the three-day convention. 

*** Romney’s new ad blitz: Meanwhile, not too long after Obama finished his remarks last night, the Romney campaign unveiled 15 new TV ads in eight battleground states. Here’s a sampling of these new ads -- on the looming defense cuts, on the deficit/debt, and on standing up to China. But here’s perhaps the biggest conclusion from these new TV ads: The eight states don’t include Michigan, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin. Rather they’re the usual Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia. After all the conventions, after all the advertising, and after all the events of the past few months, the battleground hasn’t changed. If Romney concedes Wisconsin to the president, Romney would win seven of these eight battleground states and still lose the Electoral College if he loses Florida. Think about that… 

*** On the trail: Obama departs Charlotte on Air Force One at 10:00 am ET and holds a rally in Portsmouth, NH at 12:20 pm ET (with Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, and Jill Biden), and they hold another rally in Iowa City, IA at 6:20 pm ET… Romney stumps in Orange City, IA at 1:00 pm ET and then rallies in Nashua, NH at 7:10 pm ET… Paul Ryan campaigns in Nevada… And Ann Romney hits Leesburg, VA.

*** Romney to appear on “Meet”: On Sunday, NBC’s David Gregory will interview Romney on “Meet the Press.”

Countdown to 1st presidential debate: 26 days
Countdown to VP debate: 34 days
Countdown to 2nd presidential debate: 39 days
Countdown to 3rd presidential debate: 45 days
Countdown to Election Day: 60 days

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