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Obama receives Democratic nomination

John Cameron | Friday, September 7, 2012

Rising stars, tenured figures and supporters of the Democratic Party converged in Charlotte, N.C., this week for the Democratic National Convention (DNC), which marked the party’s official nomination of President Barack Obama for a second term in office.

Former President Bill Clinton gave the formal nomination in a much-lauded address. Susan Ohmer, a professor of modern communication, said the choice of Clinton for this role was significant.

“That speech was remarkable … that a former president nominated a sitting president. President Clinton provided specific and detailed counterarguments to Republican criticism of the Democrats’ weakest area, the economy,” Ohmer said. “[Clinton] referenced his proven success with the budget and linked his work to that of President Obama, in a way transferring his success to the President.”

Although her speech was also highly visible, First Lady Michelle Obama had a very different role in the convention, Ohmer said.

“It seems to be the role of the First Lady or the candidate’s wife to humanize her husband for the audience,” she said. “They are generally not politicians and have their roles because their husbands were elected, not them. So generally they are careful not to speak as political figures.”

That being said, Ohmer said nominees’ wives speeches tend to draw parallels to the big issues.

“Yet of course their speeches and presentation of their personal experience link to the party’s themes: family, values, hard work, the immigrant experience, the American dream,” she said. “They may show a softer side, but it is no less strong in supporting the party and the candidate’s goals.”

While Ann Romney gave a similar speech at the GOP’s convention last week, Ohmer said the First Lady’s ability to speak of her husband’s experience in the White House made her address more effective.

“I would give the edge to Mrs. Obama, because she was able to connect her personal life with the president more directly to his political work. She can testify to his long hours and concern about American citizens. Mrs. Romney can talk about the concern that her husband has shown for people in his church, but it’s not the same,” she said. “A First Lady can offer personal testimony about her husband in situations that presidents face and that a political candidate hasn’t faced.”

Camille Suarez, president of College Democrats, also found the First Lady’s speech more impactful.

“I think Michelle Obama’s speech was more successful. She talked about Obama as a person and about things people could relate to,” Suarez said. “For example, college loans, that’s something students, and just about him being a parent. She hit a wide spectrum that I don’t think Ann Romney did.”

Ohmer said an array of factors went into determining the rest of the speech lineup at the convention.

“First and foremost, the party wants to address key issues in the campaign, build support for its candidate, and contrast its platform and ideas with those of the other party,” Ohmer said. “A party can demonstrate its diversity by its choice of speakers and appeal to demographic groups who either clearly support it or whose support the party wants to ensure.”

Ohmer, who teaches a course titled “Media and Presidential Elections,” said convention coverage varied across outlets, but was generally more extensive for the DNC.

“I think the media have been more enthusiastic about the DNC than the RNC – certainly they have raved strongly about some speeches more than others – but in general I’ve been struck by the extensive analyses journalist provide,” Ohmer said. “We really do have a rich pool of media to choose from and one can get a good sense of the different approaches of the conventions from journalists’ analyses.”

Regardless of the relative effectiveness of one convention to another, conventions do not determine the race’s outcome, Ohmer said.

“It is too early to be a ‘make it or break it’ point, but I think conventions can shift the grounds of discussion leading up to the election … so in that sense the arguments or commercials after a convention start from a different place.”

Suarez said she felt the DNC reinvigorated the party’s support base more effectively than the opposition.

“From what I’ve been reading and people I’ve been talking to, I think people are more inspired,” she said. “I think they kind of lit a fire under people.”