As the Republican National Convention gets underway this week in St. Paul, one thing is for sure: John McCain will not accept his partys nomination at the 50-yard line of a football stadium.
Democrats point to the relatively understated tenor of the upcoming RNC as proof that McCain does not have the energy of the country behind him. With just over two months until election day, Dems say presidential candidates who want to be taken seriously need to start filling the stands with legions of sign-toting supporters.
The scene last Thursday in Denver was nothing if not energetic. Tens of thousands of Barack Obama followers swaying back and forth to the musical stylings of Stevie Wonder not a bad day for a political campaign.
All told, nearly 80,000 people watched Obamas performance live from the stands at Denvers Invesco Field. Obama supporters would explain the record number by pointing to the historic energy of their presidential candidate. They wouldnt be wrong, either: Its not every major party nominee that can attract the same size audience as the Denver Broncos.
But did Obama really need the spectacle? The campaign surely wasnt concerned about getting the message out: Compared to the 80,000 people on hand in Denver, 40 million viewers tuned in to hear Obama on network television, a number that would have been just as impressive without the record turnout.
For Obama, though, Denver was about sending another kind of message. The campaign wanted viewers to see the stands at Invesco Field and realize just what kind of candidacy they were witnessing: one that energizes a nation into action.
Obama does energize the American public, and not for the reasons the McCain campaign has claimed. He is a leader who can relate to his country by highlighting real problems and outlining real solutions for Americans everywhere. If he is a rock star, he is a rock star with a plan to change the American political culture and the direction of American policy.
But the Obama campaign too often defines itself by its record-breaking crowds. The last night of the DNC in Denver seemed more about convincing the American public that Obama was popular and less about the substantive issues of his candidacy. Sure, Obamas speech referenced health care and the war in Iraq, but the focus of the night was on the audience in the stands.
Obama is a stellar presidential candidate with a vision for a better America, but his campaign must refocus if it intends to win in November. Sooner or later, the Obama campaign needs to start defining itself according to its political platform instead of based on the crowds it can attract at a Denver football stadium. When that time comes, the campaign need not worry about recruiting a larger audience for its political message. Were already listening.