Winners and Losers of the 2012 DNC

Bill Clinton President Obama has been officially christened the Democrats’ 2012 presidential nominee. Who earned their party stripes this week, and who’s slinking home from Charlotte?

Winners

Bill Clinton – Who says you can’t go back? Sure, his speech was long, but nobody was going to pull the red light on Bill. Especially since he was hitting all the right notes that the Democrats wanted the TV audience to hear in an engaging way that now eludes the current Orator in Chief. When you have an advance copy of an Obama speech, you know that just a few words might change through the delivery. With Clinton’s speech, prepared remarks were basically useless as he ad-libbed his way through nearly half of the 48-minute address. Plus, Clinton easily pulled off a key aspect that fell short for the current president: He looked like he was having a blast up there. He notably turned the Bush blaming into Bush praise while lauding his allying in global AIDS initiatives. Even those who are not fans of Clinton wanted to hear what he was going to say, and despite the length I’m guessing he had a much higher retention rate than Obama. He branched off on tangent after tangent and paused for multiple self-backpats, yet viewers still hung in to see where he’d go next. Clinton upstaged the guy he supposedly came to help, and their stiff hug afterward said as much.

Hillary Clinton – Where was the former first lady during her husband’s remarks? A world away from the Democratic National Convention, missing the event for the first time since 1968, the secretary of State watched the former president’s speech from East Timor. The next day in remarks with Timor-Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, Clinton said it was “a good rule” for the country’s top diplomat to skip such affairs “because of the nonpartisan nature of our foreign policy.” Even with the geographical disparity, Bill Clinton kept hope alive, so to speak, and excitement high for his wife’s future goals of running for office. “My husband read parts of his speech to me over the last few days. I received the as-prepared version, which I’m anxious, when I can, to compare with the as-delivered version,” she quipped to reporters on Thursday.

Joe Biden – The unthinkable happened last night: While most were just hoping the vice president didn’t merrily dance into a minefield, mirroring multiple recent gaffes and verbal diarrhea on the campaign trail, Biden outshined his boss on the stage. He played well upon his strength — while definitely not in Bill’s league, Biden has the Clintonesque quality of the “real guy” charm, being able to give a speech like he’s pulled up a chair in your living room, raided your fridge, and rifled through your CD collection. He recycled lines, too, but his earnest delivery and enthusiasm made them feel dusted off and ready for primetime. Biden did so while managing to keep a lid on quips about lube or 7-Eleven employees, and even opened with a sweet tribute to his wife (in keeping with the “I love my spouse the most” theme of both conventions).

Emanuel Cleaver – The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus not only gave the hope and change mantra a 2012 update and revarnish, but his impassioned address managed to blend a call for congeniality in Congress with a full-throated defense of liberal beliefs. If there was a speech to rally the base and make undecideds sit up and listen at the same time, it was wrapped up in the Missouri congressman’s infectious tone and accessible wording. In some ways, he was also schooling Obama on the message the president himself used to get elected: “I want to encourage our president and all of us to continue to hope for an America that remembers, recognizes, and fervently protects its greatness. …As long as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob sits on the throne of grace, hope on!”

Deval Patrick – The current governor of Massachusetts used every weapon in his arsenal to try to discredit his predecessor, and did so in a way that could prove damaging in the eyes of an average undecided voter. He’ll be remembered most, though, for rallying the base in a way that perhaps Obama should have tried: Patrick famously told Democrats to grow a pair, or “grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe.”

Lilly Ledbetter – She’s been mentioned by President Obama and Michelle Obama on nearly every campaign stump. But most Americans weren’t able to put a face to the policy on women’s equal pay for equal work until she spoke before the convention. A former supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., Ledbetter blasted her message from the podium like the Erin Brockovich of the “war on women.” By putting her front and center, Dems were able to make the first bill signed by Obama come alive.

Julian Castro – I wouldn’t put the San Antonio mayor’s keynote speech at the level of stunning anticipated on the opening night of the convention. But Castro did come off poised and talented at politics. Expect him to be poised for higher office, as the Democrats clearly intend by giving him the up-and-comer prime speaking slot. And imagine, if you will, a face-off for the White House someday between Castro and Marco Rubio.

Ted Strickland – The former governor of Ohio offered the amendments, with impassioned arguments behind them, to put God and Jerusalem back into the Democratic platform. The ordained Methodist minister will always be able to put that on his resume.

Abortion – It was actually surprising to see how much play this got in a nationally televised convention, including speeches from Planned Parenthood and NARAL chiefs. The DNC was expected to hit hard on women being able to get birth control without a co-payment, but the messaging went many steps further into the territory of abortion rights. A striking example that highlights the truth of both conventions: While ostensibly intended to lure undecideds, they were each really about rallying the base.

Losers

President Obama – The president’s acceptance speech last night set a new Twitter record as 52,000 tweets per minute flew across the social media site. Unfortunately for the candidate, said tweets weren’t about what a magnificent, soaring piece of oratory it was, but expressions of boredom, musings about whether he was playing it safe, and frustrations that it was so dry and lifeless and lacking substance. Even the president looked dull and lifeless as he delivered an address that should have never left the speechwriter’s desk without numerous red lines strewn across the copy. Granted, it was a tall order to ask that he come within the same stratosphere as his 2008 Denver speech or Bill Clinton’s missive. But his stale, recycled stump speech and State of the Union points with a few zingers thrown at Mitt Romney just came off as if the president didn’t really care. That is, except for the last 20 seconds or so, when he seemed to finally get some of his mojo back too little, too late.

Antonio Villaraigosa – The Los Angeles mayor and his ear-to-ear grin will be remembered less for chairing the convention and more for his fumbling of the platform amendments offered by Strickland. Clearly, Democratic officials wanted the formality taken care of cleanly and quickly to stem controversy that was overshadowing the first part of the convention, but Villaraigosa’s repeated calls for a two-thirds vote, consultation with a party official, then declaration of a win when most agree it was nowhere near that will bounce back on him every time the moment in convention history is replayed. On another front, the dreams Villaraigosa is believed to harbor about becoming the first Latino president got a bit of drubbing from the performance of keynoter Castro — who carries a lot less baggage than Antonio.

Charlie Crist – It has nothing to do with a onetime Republican crossing over and speaking to the Dems, as politicians cross sides and pop up at former-foe conventions all the time. The speech was just painful to watch. The delegates didn’t seem to want him there. The quips in the address were tired and the tone was dull. What could have been a firebrand moment of Tea Party rebuke by the former Florida governor defeated by Rubio fizzled like an empty tanning booth.

John Kerry – I noted in my recap of the Republican National Convention that foreign policy was a loser there because of its few mentions and the crowd’s limited interest in the topic. It was also a loser at the DNC, both interest-wise and because its main ally was Kerry. The Foreign Relations Committee chairman’s speech was an indignant, cobbled assemblage of factually strained talking points and Biblical defense of global warming legislation. And the lobs at Romney just felt like two Massachusetts politicians in Sperry Top-Siders duking it out on the deck of a 76-foot yacht.

Jimmy Carter – What did he say in his video? Precisely. The former president’s message was as forgettable as his term.

Kal Penn – The DNC was wise to not use too much Hollywood in a convention that was supposed to be about the working class, but Kumar also has a political title under his belt having worked in Obama’s White House Office of Public Engagement. Sure, you want the youth vote, but was this the best way to get it? The actor encouraged the use of the Twitter hashtag #sexyface and it was quickly trending (and not, surprisingly, in any relation to John Thune). But the vapid won’t stick around to make a difference at the polls in November.

God and Jerusalem – One minute you’re on the platform cutting floor, the next minute you’re resurrected to exorcise platform controversy.