First Thoughts: The enthusiasm gap

Image: Workers continue to setup during preparations for the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on Sept. 3, 2012 in Charlotte, NC.
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)Alex Wong / Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News

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

Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter. Follow us @chucktodd, @mmurraypolitics, @DomenicoNBC, @brookebrower