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What to Watch at the DNC This Week

Former presidents, fresh faces will abound as Obama makes case for second term


Today kicks off the three-day Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., where President Barack Obama will begin his final push towards a second term in the White House. Given the fact that he is already president and was able to ignore the primaries, the DNC is receiving less attention than the RNC last week. However, there will still be plenty of interesting things going on this week. These include:

The Keynote Speech

This year’s keynote speech at the DNC will be given by relatively unknown San Antonio mayor Julian Castro. Castro is the first Latino to give the keynote address at the DNC. If he’s unknown now, chances are that he won’t remain unknown for long. Remember, Bill Clinton gave a similar address in 1988, and of course we all remember what happened after Barack Obama’s famous 2004 keynote speech.

The Democrats and Republicans seem to have had different strategies when it comes to keynote speakers in recent years. The Democrats have picked lesser known politicians for the past two conventions (Castro this year, current Virginia Sen. Mark Warner in 2008), while the Republicans went higher profile (Chris Christie this year, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2008).

Who’s Next?

Whether Obama wins or loses in November, the Democrats will be looking ahead for their presumptive 2016 presidential nominee. Joe Biden will be 74 years old in 2016. Ronald Reagan was the oldest person ever elected president at 69, so it’s difficult to imagine the Democrats placing the party’s future in the hands of someone who would be five years older than that. Hillary Clinton is another logical frontrunner, but she will not speak at the DNC and has not explicitly said she will run in 2016. Clinton would be 69 in 2016.

Who else might be worth watching? Keep an eye on the speeches given by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Pundits have tabbed them as potential 2016 presidential candidates.

Speaking of Clinton …

While illness and a poorly received presidency kept the two living former Republican presidents — George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, respectively — from attending and participating in the RNC, the Democrats will have less of an issue with their living presidents.

Former President Jimmy Carter will address the DNC via video during the convention today. The main event, though, will be former President Bill Clinton’s speech tomorrow. Of all the living presidents, his presidency is probably viewed most fondly, and he has been a valuable weapon for the Democrats since leaving office. While there are some worries about what Clinton might say, the party is not worried that the former president might pull an “Eastwood” on the convention.

What Will Biden Say?

Typically, the role of the vice president during a campaign is to serve as attack dog. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate, took on Obama’s economic policies in his speech to the RNC last week. However, many fact-finders and reporters noted that Ryan’s speech included several false or misleading statements. These included blaming Obama for a plant closing that happened one month before he took office, criticizing the president for not acting on a deficit-reduction program that Ryan also failed to act on, and pushing full blame for the debt ceiling standoff and Standard & Poor’s lowering of the U.S. credit rating on Obama.

How aggressively will Biden attack the GOP for its distortions and misleading statements at the RNC and at campaign events? What tone will Biden take during his speech? It should be interesting to watch, even if he doesn’t fully unload on Republicans.

Obama’s focus

The question facing Obama is deceptively simple: does he focus on what he accomplished over the past four years, or does he sketch out what he hopes to accomplish with a second term? Much of Romney and Ryan’s argument against Obama is that he was unsuccessful in fixing the economy. Obama will almost certainly try to counter that argument, but he will likely also focus on his health care law, repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and supporting gay marriage, among others. Striking that balance, and figuring out how to whip up enthusiasm for another term, could be his greatest challenge yet.

— Benjamin Nanamaker, InvestorPlace Money & Politics Editor

The opinions contained in this column are solely those of the writer.

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