Image: Workers continue to setup during preparations for the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on Sept. 3, 2012 in Charlotte, NC.
Alex Wong  /  Getty Images
A front view of the stage as workers continue to setup during preparations for the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 3, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC that will start on September 4 and run through September 7, will nominate U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
NBC News
updated 9/4/2012 1:00:36 PM ET 2012-09-04T17:00:36

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If there's a theme to tonight's speaking lineup here at the first day of the Democratic convention, it's a nod to all the important voting and demographic blocs of the Obama coalition. Women? You have First Lady Michelle Obama, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Lilly Ledbetter. Latinos? Keynote speaker Julian Castro and Rep. Xavier Becerra. African Americans? The first lady and Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx. Why is tonight's coalition night so important for Democrats? Because they are facing an enthusiasm gap -- at least compared to 2008 -- with these voting blocs. In the Aug. 2012 NBC/WSJ poll, just 52% of voters under 35 and only 49% of Latinos expressed high interest in the upcoming election, which was down about 20 points for both groups at this same point in ’08. That said, almost all voting segments in the poll -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- aren’t as interested as they were in 2008. So this is the opportunity that the Democratic convention represents for the Obama camp and Democrats: maybe a final chance to rekindle some of the 2008 magic. If Mitt Romney had to close his likeability gap at last week’s GOP convention, Barack Obama and the Democrats this week have to close the enthusiasm gap.

*** Fired up? Ready to go? Obama campaign officials say their voters are getting more excited (example: the 13,000 who turned out in Colorado over the weekend) and believe that 65,000 supporters filling the Bank of America Stadium on Thursday will reflect plenty of energy heading into November -- assuming, of course, that the weather cooperates that night. (Per NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, the Obama campaign is telling reporters that Thursday night at the football stadium will happen, rain or shine, unless there is a last-minute safety issue.) “You’ll see for sure enthusiasm coming out of the convention,” one official told First Read. Enough to propel Obama to victory in two months? We’ll find out…

*** Michelle’s moment: Tonight’s two major primetimes speakers are First Lady Michelle Obama and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. The Obama campaign says that the first lady will serve as a character witness for President Obama, describing the tough decisions that her husband has made. The AP also notes how Michelle Obama has been perhaps her husband’s biggest defender on the campaign trail, as well as someone who has drawn contrasts with Mitt Romney, although without mentioning the GOP nominee’s name. “These days, Mrs. Obama’s speeches are peppered with references to the president’s upbringing in Hawaii, where he was raised by a single mother and his grandparents. She talks about the student loans he took out to pay for college and the years it took to pay them back.” And there isn’t a more popular Obama – the first lady’s fav/unfav rating in the July NBC/WSJ poll was 54%-26% (versus her husband’s 49%-43%).

*** Castro's moment: Prior to the first lady’s appearance, Castro will step up to one of the most prominent speaking slots in American politics when he delivers the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention tonight. The 37-year-old Harvard Law and Stanford grad will be the first Latino to deliver the address. He's largely unknown to a national audience, but he has shown an ability to deliver a strong speech that draws on his compelling personal story. The Obama campaign has watched Castro closely, made him a campaign co-chairman, and says he has been effective on the campaign trail for the president. In our August NBC/WSJ poll, Obama was leading Romney among Latinos, 63%-28%. But as mentioned above, just 49% of Latino voters were expressing a high level of interest in the upcoming election (compared with 82% for African Americans, 68% for whites, and 84% for seniors). By the way, the last time a Texas Democrat gave the keynote was Ann Richards – and the Democratic Party is hoping that, one day, Castro might win statewide office in the Lone Star  State.

*** The Democrats’ three objectives: In a briefing yesterday with NBC, Obama campaign officials said that the convention has three objectives. One, to present the economic choice between the Obama and Romney visions. Two, to paint where the country is today vs. where it had been, highlighting the tough decisions Obama made (like on health care and the auto bailout). And three, to make the case where the  country goes from here.

*** Tuesday’s convention schedule: Below are some of the major speakers for the first evening of the Democratic convention here in Charlotte, which gets gaveled in at 5:00 pm ET.

7:00 pm hour: Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Joe Kennedy III (whose speech is tied to a video tribute to the Kennedy family)
8:00 pm hour: Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak, Rep. Jared Polis, House candidate Tammy Duckworth, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chaffee (I), House Leader James Clyburn, and Rep. Xavier Becerra
9:00 pm hour: Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, actor Kal Penn, Obama half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng and brother-in-law Craig Robinson, Lilly Ledbetter, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick
10:00 pm hour: Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, First Lady Michelle Obama

*** On the trail today: Obama campaigns in Norfolk, VA at 12:35 pm ET… Paul Ryan stumps in Westlake, OH at 12:20 pm ET and Cedar Rapids at 5:10 pm ET

*** GOP counterprogramming: At 1:00 pm ET in Charlotte, Republicans Nikki Haley, John Sununu, Jason Chaffetz, and Tim Scott hold a press conference to counter today’s activities at the Dem convention. Meanwhile, after yesterday’s back-and-forth over “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” the Romney camp is pouncing on an interview that Obama gave to a Colorado Springs affiliate, in which gave himself an “incomplete” grade on the economy. Obama added in his response, “What I would say is the steps we’ve taken in saving the auto industry, in making sure that college is more affordable, and investing in clean energy and science … those are all of the things that we’re going to need to grow over the long term.”

Countdown to 1st presidential debate: 29 days
Countdown to VP debate: 37 days
Countdown to 2nd presidential debate: 42 days
Countdown to 3rd presidential debate: 48 days
Countdown to Election Day: 63 days

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Video: How will Afghan War affect how Virginia votes?

  1. Closed captioning of: How will Afghan War affect how Virginia votes?

    >>> who lived till 93, we lost her a couple years ago, she was at the last convention with me. i can't picture -- my mom was a smart woman, but my mom, i can't picture handing her a voucher at age 80 and saying you go out in the insurance market and you figure out what's best for you. ladies and gentlemen , it's just that simple. we are for medicare. they are for voucher care. it's basic.

    >> welcome back. it's 25 past the hour. here with us now former democratic governor and former chairman of the democratic national convention tim kaine , who is now running for a u.s. senate seat in virginia . speaking tonight?

    >> i am indeed. zeks sig

    >> excited?

    >> i am very excited.

    >> mark halpern is with us. you have new information on what the first lady might be saying.

    >> a little preview from her speech. the big theme they want to drive is the middle class . michelle obama by her own upbringing is going to talk about the importance of the middle class and her husband fighting for the middle class . she's going to testify to his strength and the way he's dealt with adversity in a way only she can. and she's going to talk about an issue she's worked on a lot, military families. those are three things are things she can uniquely do and she's got the confidence of having done this once before, unlike ann romney , who did a good job in her maiden appearance, michelle obama will be able to come back and do a good job.

    >> tim kaine , the middle class are hurting and frustrated. the poll shows the president has his work cut out for him.

    >> i think the president and his team can do it. what i'm talking about tonight is results. we're not where we want to be at as a nation but --

    >> but that's a tough sell, isn't it?

    >> i look at this maybe like a virginians , we're at the n the middle of two wars, and the last credible intelligent for bin laden is eight years old. virginia is the most military state in the country between active guard reserve , military veterans . one in nine virginians is a vet. this is a state that appreciates a tough commander in chief.

    >> it comes down to the economy, it comes down to people's wallets.

    >> virginia has seen some significant benefit from some of the president's policies. are we still in need of more acceleration in the economy? absolutely. we got to grow the economy, fix the budget. we have to find common ground. but if you just look at the economic stats and your guest in the segments stock market plummeting to the 7s and 6s, losing jobs in the hundreds of thousands, gdp shrinking, now it's growing back.

    >> i think pride morning right after the big speeches, we'll be getting a new jobs report.

    >> it will put a shed on the entire convention. one way or another. i'm wondering why you're here, why you're speaking lon. you're running a really tough race, one of the closest in virginia . and yet not only are you come hearing and embracing the president, embrace being the national party , you're speaking tonight.

    >> yup. i'm here because first i am who i am and i'm not changing it. i'm a supporter of this president and i want him to get re-elected. i've got a great virginia delegation here i'm going to be spending time with. i was the dnc chair that picked charleston to host this election. we can't ignore the south. when there was a choice about a convention city i thought charlotte's got a lot to offer, we'll come and --

    >> he knows how to play a crowd, doesn't he?

    >> i've been in a lot of bars.

    >> so, mike, it is difficult for some democrats like claire mccaskell to come here because there's a disconnect between let's say swing voters in missouri and the national democratic party . virginia is going to be such a tough place for democrats this year but if -- don't you start to feel like in mitt romney can't win north carolina and virginia , he's not going to win this election?

    >> instinct tells me he's got a better shot in north carolina than he does in virginia but that's a stunning number that you just recited. one in nine in your state members of the military, former members of the military. we're here in the state with camp lejeune and do you have an explanation or a theory as to why there is almost an unconscionable absence of speaking about the war in afghanistan from both candidates?

    >> you're going to hear about it from the president. he was down in talking not only the anniversary of the year in iraq and people make commitments all the time butch each said we'd get out of iraq and we did. he said we in virginia looking at it through our eyes, the president won virginia in 2008 when he was a neophyte running against a bona fide american war hero. this a battle tested president who made very difficult decisions. he's made tough decisions here and virginians respect him.

    >> are you confronted at all by voters as you make your rounds in the state with the feeling that some people express , a lot of people express , the weight of this war, being carried by almost when you're in the middle of two wars your guardsmen and women are getting redeployed repeatedly. i wasn't to the deployments, i went to the funerals, i went to afghanistan to see our guards men and women there. the military families with the relief that these repeated deployments is coming to an end. i know time between deployments is decreasing. at quantico they're not being given to start tomorrow. they're being told your active.

    >> first of all, i love the way you talk about the staff. sequestration, the cuts that are likely to come at the end of the year if we don't have a deal, virginia would be one of the top three states affected by this.

    >> sure would.

    >> how are you addressing this in virginia and how can democrats learn from you around the country?

    >> i don't know if i have anything to teach but i'm addressing it by reminding people how we got here. we got here because we started a whole series of policies that ran up the deficit. we put the wars on the credit card , we put the walks there's two working stat jis on how to balance the budget. one is pledge allegiance to grover norquist . that's one strategy. that's the other guy's, my opponents and the romney/ryan strategy. the second one is, snop, i we have if you can let the bush tax cuts expire at the top end , you have revenue that will then soften the need for any of these --

    >> we've got to go to break. but will t he believes he needed to do that.

    >> what do you think though?

    >> i think the big game going forward is we have to make sure the porous afghan/pakistan border is --

    >> did you agree with the president?

    >> i did not have any objection to that.

    >> does that mean you agree he tripled the number of troops in afghanistan .

    >> i'm not a military man.

    >> is that a yes? you're good. i need a yes.

    >> i thought it was important to do.

    >> you can't put that in a 30-second ad, can you?

    >> but the draw down was very important.

    >> for the life of me i can't figure why he tripled the number of troops in afghanistan . if you're a general, your job is to get as many troops for your theater as possible and to accomplish your mission . i have great respect for the general to ask for those troops but if you're commander in chief, you have more of a responsibility than to the general.

    >> within a few weeks of the president coming into office, the taliban were 50 miles away from the nuclear materials in pakistan. part of the reason was to make the border less porous so we not ris ak power grab of the nuclear weapons . that was part of why he needed to do it. now we need to draw down and we are.

    >> still ahead, former secretary of state madeleine albright joins us right here on the set. she's right here on " morning joe ." hey, bro. or engaging. conversations help us learn and grow. at wells fargo , we believe you can never underestimate the power of a conversation. it's this exchange of ideas that helps you move ahead with confidence. so when the conversation turns to your financial goals... turn to us. if you need anything else, let me know . [ female announcer ] wells fargo . together we'll go far.

    >>> welcome back to " morning joe ." meteorologist bill karins. quick weather update and we'll return back to charlotte for our continuing coverage of the


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