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The Democratic Convention Scramble

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

After a well-executed Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., it is now time for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

The Democrats are already responding to the Republican convention, and changing their speaker lineup: According to Donovan Slack of Politico, the Democrats are adding women and minorities to their roster, which I take to mean that the Republican convention was effective. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s speech was presidential — it wouldn’t be hard to imagine her giving that if she were the nominee. Just as stirring was that of Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Some left-wing critics noted that the RNC stage was more diverse than the RNC delegation; I ask, would you prefer it the other way around?

I’m afraid that that’s the case with the Democratic National Convention. As Matt Yglesias tweeted, "[the] DNC lineup exaggerates whiteness of the party relative to its actual voting base."

One good way to judge the confidence of a campaign is to note how often it uses ad hominem attacks. The more ad hominems, the less confident they must be.

The Democrats’s schedule of speakers is interesting. Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker is scheduled to speak on the first day of the convention. I will be interested to see the reaction to his speech, because Mr. Booker reminds me a lot of a younger President Obama. He is young, black, and at least pays lip service to healing the partisan divide in this country. His speech will be a test of whether the country is jaded with this sanctimony yet.

President Jimmy Carter, to whom Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney subtly compared Mr. Obama during his acceptance speech, will not be present. Neither, tellingly, will Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. She is on the opposite side of the globe, visiting the Cook Islands, Indonesia, China and Russia. She has become a popular figure as Secretary of State, and would be a valuable asset at the convention; presumably her position as Secretary of State forbids her to participate. Given her presidential ambitions you can’t help but see her distancing herself from the convention if the guidelines of the State Department allowed her participation.

Her husband, however, will be there, which, surprisingly, will probably not hurt the Democrats focus on women voters. Bill Clinton is, despite his sins, highly popular with women.

Every convention, on both sides, wants, more than almost anything, to get a high-profile politician of the opponent’s party to endorse their candidate. This year the Republicans got former Democratic congressman Artur Davis, and the Democrats have former Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who is a much better known figure than Mr. Davis. I expect that this will be effective in Florida, which may be the most important state in the Union this November.

The usual Sunday morning attack-dogs will be there: Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. I can’t see how their decidedly negative rhetoric will inspire the base. Expect more negativity with the Massachusetts lineup: Barney Frank, Deval Patrick, Tom Menino, all of whom will no doubt decry Mr. Romney’s tenure as governor.

I’m hardly the only one to express doubts about the effectiveness of the focus on social issues in this election. The American people generally turn against anyone whom they perceive to be the aggressor on these issues. The Democrats, then, will succeed on these issues to the extent that they can portray the Republicans as aggressors in the "war." Expect Sandra Fluke, a women’s rights activist; Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren; Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius; Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, and, of course, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and her "presentation of the women of the House of Representatives" to overreach on this one. I mean, what is actress Eva Longoria doing speaking at the Democratic National Convention? What are her qualifications? What is her expertise?

Sanctimony can easily backfire in American politics. Besides, Democrats have as much of a gap with men as Republicans do with women. While there is a higher percentage of women voters than that of men, why isn’t there any pressure on Democrats to appeal to men? Again, this self-righteousness about so-called women’s issues may come back to haunt them in November, when unemployment is still more than 8 percent.

In a far wiser move, the convention has some prominent swing-state politicians speaking, including former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt and Rep. David Price of North Carolina, Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado, and several Ohio politicians. This is what both parties ought to be focusing on, not on divisive, slice-and-dice politics of race, gender and class. This election is going to be decided by 10 counties: I suggest speaking to them.

As with the RNC, this is a mixture of choices wise and foolish. It remains to be seen what, if any, poll boost the party will receive.

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