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Obama Tries to Recapture the Spirit of ’08

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — President Obama’s acceptance speech was heavy on policy promise, but in their use of stars, musical acts and theatrics, Democrats also sent the message that they are the ones who are savvier about Hollywood.

From a standpoint of showmanship, the move from the Bank of America Stadium indoors to the Time Warner Cable Arena removed some of the more soaring aspects of Obama’s night, perhaps giving an extra sense of energy to Obama’s oratory.

His speech was greeted in he arena with enthusiasm in the arena, as would be expected, and sought to recapture the spirit of his first run for office. While he offered a dose of policy goals, it was surprisingly short on addressing the crisis of jobs, and instead was intent on recapturing the inspirational storyline in the face of fierce Republican attacks that he was out to stem success.

“We honor the strivers, the dreamers, the risk takers who have always been the driving force behind our free enterprise system, the greatest engine of growth and prosperity the world has ever known,” Obama said. “But we also believe in something called citizenship — a word at the very heart of our founding, at the very essence of our democracy, the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations.”

The entertainment industry presence was more muted than it was in 2008, but not the visibility. Scarlett Johansson urged younger voters to get out the vote. Kerry Washington appealed to African Americans and immigrants, and Eva Longoria reached to Latinos, telling a biographical, rags-to-riches tale that was an exercise in a star making the case for credibility in the political arena.

“The Eva Longoria who worked at Wendy’s flipping burgers needed a tax break, but the Eva Longoria who works on movie sets does not,” she said, in one of her signature lines.

It was a bit of a surprise that so many prominent roles given to celebrity on the stage, performances by James Taylor, the Foo Fighters and Mary J. Blige, and use of movie shorts narrated by Tom Hanks and George Clooney. Even Andy Griffith, a native of North Carolina who did a pro-healthcare reform ad for the administration, showed up in a tribute to prominent Democratic politicos who have passed away in the past four years.

But this campaign has been about pulling out all the stops despite the risks over the empathy “optics,” to use a buzzword of the past two weeks. The Republicans used all of the same show-biz techniques last week; the Democrats sought to show they were savvier.

It wasn’t just quips about Clint, but shots at Stallone. “Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from Alaska; Mitt Romney talks like he’s only seen Russia by watching Rocky IV.”

By nature the entertainment figures were primarily deployed to lure younger voters, and hope to boost their enthusiasm to something close to the levels of 2008. On a webcast sent out by the Democratic party, Kal Penn hosted a much more irreverent take from the arena, with Elizabeth Banks and other stars who have trekked here to soak in the scene.

Perhaps the best lesson that Democrats have learned is to not skimp on the warm up. Jennifer Granholm is a former governor of Michigan with a Current TV show, but she took the stage as if she were Dolph Lundgren, rousing the crowd and doing what conventions now set out to do: Rally.

Obama Tries to Recapture the Spirit of '08

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