Video: Clinton-Obama split real or hype?

By Chief White House correspondent and political director
NBC News
updated 8/25/2008 7:47:53 PM ET 2008-08-25T23:47:53

With all but a handful of the political press corps in this fair city, it's easy to be engulfed by the event itself while losing sight of the "big picture."

In the span of two weeks, both nominees will name running mates and accept nominations.

Both will present themselves to millions of new voters — many of whom have never heard the candidates speak before.

During the primary season, it was a huge night for McCain or Obama if they spoke to 10 million folks. On the next two Thursday nights, they'll address upwards of 50 million Americans.

The press corps may be familiar with the candidates' arguments, but millions of voters will be listening to these two for the very first time.

This is why these next two weeks are so important. They'll set campaign perception and tone, providing a new first impression for a massive slew of voters.

I can't underscore enough the historical nature of these two weeks. Never have we had two back-to-back conventions this late in the season.

We have literally taken a campaign that has gone on for nearly three years and suddenly compacted it into about 60 days. It's very British of us, actually.

A word of warning when watching these conventions — many of us in the media holding pens in Denver and St. Paul are going to get caught up in two storylines that won't be debated by the nominees this fall.

In Denver, the subplot is the Clinton issue. Is it real or is it simply about a bunch of activists who are losing their place in the Democratic establishment pecking order? Are they here to make one last stand?

In St. Paul, it'll be this obsession over base unrest with McCain. It'll be hyped but become less of a problem when the rubber meets the voting road.

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I'm not naïve. There are some remaining ex-Clinton supporters not yet with Obama, but the numbers don't match the media hype.

And there are some conservatives uneasy about McCain, but, again, the numbers indicate otherwise.

The trick for both campaigns is not to get caught up in dealing with these stories.

It won't be easy because the media is not going to have a hard time finding disgruntled Clintonistas and disappointed social conservatives. But not every activist speaks for an entire voting bloc.

One thing to watch for tonight? Teddy.

He's coming and he might speak. Nobody wants to say it, but there are a lot of folks who will want to watch because no one knows how many more “steam winders” he has left in him.

Whatever your politics, it's still fun to watch Teddy give a speech.

As for the other main event, Michelle Obama has quite the challenge in front of her.

She's been a good Obama surrogate behind the scenes, but she's failed to win over some swing voters.

I'd bet money that the Obama campaign is focus-grouping her speech tonight in some key white suburban communities to see how she plays.

If she does well, look for her in those areas. If she doesn't, I would bet she ends up deploying to places where get-out-the-vote matters more than persuasion.

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