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Dems get boost as both parties seek to leverage conventions

By Halimah Abdullah, CNN
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Tue September 11, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Both the Republican and Democratic conventions were ritzy pep rallies
  • Political experts say there were stark differences in the diversity level, overall vibe
  • Both parties worked to ensure national television audiences picked up on campaign messages

Charlotte (CNN) -- For Democrats who gathered at their convention in the swing state of North Carolina, the high glitz extravaganza watched by millions on television was a partisan infomercial that has paid off, for the moment, in energizing their voters.

For Republicans who convened in the battleground state of Florida, the impact on the party faithful of their event has waned.

The Democratic convention in Charlotte last week revved up the base as a CNN/ORC International poll released Monday showed more Democrats than Republicans were enthusiastic about voting.

Although the difference between them is narrow at 59% to 57%, Republicans commanded a six-point edge, 62% to 56%, coming out of their convention.

"The Democratic convention was fairly well-received, particularly in comparison to the GOP meeting the previous week in Tampa," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said about the latest figures.

Moreover, Democrats have gained substantially since a March survey when only 46% of respondents said they were enthusiastic about voting compared to 52% for Republicans.

The changes in voter enthusiasm within the parties also came as new polls showed shifting sentiment in the presidential race toward Democratic President Barack Obama.

The CNN poll showed Obama opening up a lead over his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, after weeks of running even -- 52% of likely voters nationwide backed Obama, compared to 46% for Romney. A Gallup survey released on Sunday also showed Obama with a wider lead.

But a Washington Post-ABC News poll of likely voters also released Monday showed the race still neck-and-neck with Obama at 49% and Romney at 48%.

Stronger messaging

Until the presidential debates beginning on October 3, any new momentum depends on the ability of both campaigns to drive home their message, political experts say.

Democrats say: Give Obama another four years to move the country forward.

Republicans say: Fire the president and replace him with Romney, a proven business leader.

The work of taking those messages to a broader national audience began at the carfefully crafted conventions.

Diversity disparity at the conventions
Berman finds out why conventions matter

Republicans showed sepia toned images of unemployed workers as speakers roundly criticized what the party sees as Obama's failures on the economy.

The Democrats projected brightly colored photos of happy entrepreneurs on stage and warned that this Technicolor vision could fade if the nation returned to the policies of previous Republican administrations.

Both sought to suggest an answer to the question: "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"

Are you better off?

"There are many layers of the performance going on," said Daniel Kreiss, an assistant professor of political communications at the University of North Carolina, noting images, speeches and biographies.

"The political performance and political theater is a good thing for democracy. It's one of the few ways the parties get a chance to make their unmitigated case for that hour," Kreiss said.

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Watch full speech of Julian Castro

Both conventions featured movie-quality videos of voters talking about either their economic woes or triumphs. Staffers moved quickly among crowds to ensure the signs held by delegates had exactly the right messages when flashed across television screens back home.

Powerful images

Both conventions played up patriotism with plenty of flag waving and the parties promoted American-themed images, said Kreiss, who wrote the book, "Taking Our Country Back: The Crafting of Networked Politics from Howard Dean to Barack Obama."

At the Republican convention, many of the supplied signs read "We Built It" in red, white, and blue writing. At the Democratic event, similar signs read "Economy Built to Last."

One thing that stood out in Tampa was Romney's biopic, which Kreiss said "had powerful images of the candidate" turning things around.

Images at the Democratic convention included people who would be small business owners and signs indicating they were open for business.

"The idea is that these people are looking forward on the jobs issue," he said.

Mark Anthony Neal, a cultural and Black studies professor at Duke University, said Democrats have been careful in touting what they see as Obama's other policy successes as a way of suggesting different ways in which his administration has improved American lives.

Democratic convention organizers were charged with addressing the challenge of how to talk about other successes.

"How do you take this question, are you better off than you were four years ago? For some folks economics is a reality and when you're struggling there are other ways you can feel good about yourself," Neal said.

He added that other messages included the administration's support for gay marriage and the DREAM Act — an election-year policy change that, in certain circumstances, halted the deportation of young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as kids

Obama must make case against change

Aiming at broader electorate

There was also the battle over optics aimed at women, minorities, middle class workers, veterans and voters and the effort to showcase inclusiveness to the broader electorate watching the events unfold on television, political experts say.

"At the GOP convention the crowd seemed calmer older and whiter and much less enthusiastic. They seemed more passive," said Trevor Parry-Giles, an associate professor of political communication at the University of Maryland.

"When they pan the faces of the crowd in Charlotte it's such a diverse bunch, it's a real stark contrast with the overwhelmingly whiteness of the Republican convention," he said.

Both conventions featured a cavalcade of high profile female speakers, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the Republican convention and Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at the Democratic event, in an attempt to capture that highly coveted demographic.

The Republican effort to feature Rice and a parade of other female speakers, like Mia Love of Utah, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Gov Nikki Haley of South Carolina, further underscored what CNN contributor and Republican strategist Alex Castellanos called "the softer side of the GOP."

In Charlotte, the lineup heavily targeted the liberal base with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Nancy Keenan, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League - Pro-Choice America, addressing the gathering.

Both conventions featured the presidential candidates' spouses vouching for the moral goodness of their husbands.

Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, made a telegenic appeal to both middle class voters and moms when she talked about eating tuna fish as newlyweds and late night homework check, political experts say.

First lady Michelle Obama, a veteran of the media circuit, wove a narrative of what senior campaign officials called the Barack Obama that few people know.

Both conventions also put forth a number of young, rising star Latino speakers—notably Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at the RNC and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro at the DNC.

"Politics is image these days because a lot of Americans don't know the ins and outs of policy," Neal said. "The conventions are a week long infomercial."

CNN's Ashley Killough contributed to this report.

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